Saturday, September 09, 2006

Next step in industrial evolution? Skip it, and leapfrog

Noting that China's exploding economic growth threatens to make it the largest carbon emitter in the world sometime between 2025 and 2030 (it currently produces sixteen percent of the world’s CO2 compared with our 25 percent), Bill McKibben writing in Harper's Magazine concludes that "[O]ur atmosphere cannot afford two counrtries behaving like the United States."

So are there alternatives to the U.S. model of industrialization available to China that can effectively lift its people from poverty without accelerating the planet towards a climate disaster? Jamie Thompson writing in China Daily offers hope that China may be poised for a "Quantum Leap Forward." (GW)

The country's industrial revolution is already well documented, with its growth bigger and faster than that of any other country in history.

But how the next chapter of its development will pan out is a topic of much discussion and speculation, and the world is waiting to see how China will handle the tough intermediate stage of its industrial evolution.

One expert believes the answer is simple: Just leapfrog it.

Ezio Manzini, professor of design at the Politecnico di Milano in Italy and one of the world's leading experts on sustainable development and social innovation, told China Daily that the country has a unique opportunity to break new ground.

"Leapfrog strategies are a possibility for new economies to shift directly from where they are to the most advanced solutions," Manzini said.

"China, being a large, growing, energetic country, has all the prerequisites to be a real champion in 'leapfrogging'."

Perhaps no phrase is more of a buzzword in China today than "sustainable development."

Tackling environmental problems and becoming more innovative are the key tasks the nation faces in its efforts to reach the goal.

Manzini said although China had so far mirrored the industrialization process of Western countries, he hoped the country would develop a new strategy for the next stage.

"China is showing itself to have an amazing energy," he said. "The issue, for China itself and for the world in general, is in which direction this energy will be directed.

"At the moment, it seems the driver for a mainly quantitative growth: to assume the traditional and unsustainable industrial model and to do the same things that have been done by the others, but in a faster and cheaper way.

"The hope is that the Chinese energy could be re-oriented towards a different model; that is, towards qualitative, sustainable development."

It is possible, Manzini argues, for China to be a pioneer in developing innovative technology in the use of renewable energy resources.

"The same could be said for the mobility issue, with China developing innovative products and services to promote new transportation systems, solving a big internal problem and, at the same time, offering solutions that could be crucial worldwide.

"In all these cases, China has the unique possibility to find an innovative and more sustainable solution, to produce what is needed for its internal market and, in doing so, to offer effective and economic solutions to large and global issues such as energy, mobility, healthy food and elderly care."

Chinese authorities have themselves stressed the importance of paying more attention to the needs of rural areas to maintain and promote sustainable growth.

Manzini, who has carried out various studies in China and was once a professor of design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, shares their views.

He said the role of the countryside in terms of sustainable growth and development is vital.

"It appears clear that rural areas should play a fundamental role, in China as elsewhere, but probably in China more than everywhere else.

"It is clear that any possible sustainable society has to be based on equilibrium between the countryside and the cities."

Manzini added that more work needed to be done by the central government to ensure its guidelines were understood and adhered to at local levels.

"Laws and regulations can be better implemented at the local scale if all the social actors local administrators, business people, non-profit associations and normal citizens understand well their meaning and see some positive implications at the local scale, too.

"Of course, not always are these positive local advantages practically realizable.

"But this should be the direction to follow; the effort needed is towards proposing laws and regulations to be enhanced at the local scale, with an important role for the local actors and with some evident local positive results."


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