Economists gave high marks to China’s ongoing transformation into a sustainable development model.
Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said China is a long way ahead of other countries in terms of the psychology and the belief system of sustainable development.
He cited China’s notion of an ecological civilization and President Xi Jinping’s idea that green is the new gold as a recognition that human wellbeing is not primarily – at least not only – about the gross domestic product (GDP).
In several important speeches, including the one at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last October, Xi said repeatedly that “clear waters and green mountains are as valuable as mountains of gold and silver.”
Noting that actually putting it into practice is very difficult, Steer said China has taken brave and strong measures – that most countries couldn’t or wouldn’t take – by closing down factories and telling people not to burn coal.
“As a result, it has got cleaner air,” Steer told China Daily on Monday on the sidelines of a meeting at the Brookings Institution where the World Bank released its new report The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018. The report tracks the wealth of 141 nations by aggregating natural capital, human capital, produced capital and net foreign assets, instead of purely GDP.
Steer said it was a difficult choice for China to make because of the cost, but, he said, “We observe China with a great deal of interest and admiration for the way they are going about it, their investment in renewable energy.”
He cited China’s $360 billion investment in renewable energy by 2020, announced at the beginning of 2017.
“It’s very impressive,” said Steer, who returned from a visit to China in December and was excited to see the blue sky in Beijing.
He said China has learned from the past lessons of building too many factories that caused too much pollution.
China, haunted by severe pollution after three decades of rapid economic growth, started to switch to a more sustainable growth model years ago, with less emphasis on GDP growth and more on sustainable growth.
Dale Jorgenson, a professor at Harvard University, praised China for its successful investment in both infrastructure and human capital.
“China has very, very impressive infrastructure – high-speed rail that would be an asset to the United States. But what they have succeeded in doing is going from very, very human capital poor to one of the better educated emerging economies,” he said.
Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank, said countries are already taking advantage of having access to the World Bank’s information on wealth accounts in their policy calculations.
“We have been working for quite some time to help China enhance its understanding capital asset investment strategy,” she said.
The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018 found that global wealth grew an estimated 66 percent from $690 trillion in 1995 to $1,143 trillion in 2014. But it said inequality was substantial, as wealth per capita in high-income OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries was 52 times greater than in low-income countries.
The report also found that middle-income countries are catching up to high-income countries in terms of their wealth, mainly because of rapid growth in Asia, especially the largest economies of China and India, but also smaller countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, according to Georgieva.