Climate change

How China’s fight against climate change is finding allies in the business sector

  • Wang Shi says China’s booming private sector has been upping its role in the fight against climate change, with the real estate industry making some pioneering moves
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 10:26pm

When the history of the early 21st century gets written, 2018 may prove to have been a turning point when the world finally woke up to the threat of climate change. The public and policymakers alike paid attention when a team of the world’s leading scientists produced a stark warning that we have just 12 years to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by nearly half.

Natural disasters from typhoons to heatwaves and forest fires gave us a glimpse of what could become commonplace if we miss that target. And the year closed with governments in this fractured world coming to rare agreement on global climate action at the UN climate conference in Poland.

At the same time, another powerful and influential sector has also been responding to the climate crisis – the global business community.

Around the world, businesses are voluntarily taking steps to lead the way to a low-emissions world. The most recent and bold example is that of the world’s largest container shipping company, Maersk, announcing plans to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Make no mistake, without actions such as this from the world’s major companies, we will not be able to avoid the environmental and social devastation climate change could bring.

In recent years, companies from China’s booming private sector have been stepping up to pull their weight, too. I see this as one of the most important contributions China can make in dealing with the climate crisis.

China’s real estate sector, in which my career has been focused, is already making moves. As of 2018, a total of 18 per cent of the sector, representing 1.9 trillion yuan (US$280 billion) in sales revenue, has signed up to an initiative on greening supply chains, which was initiated in 2016 by Land Sea Green Properties, SEE Foundation, China Urban Reality Association, the China Real Estate Chamber of Commerce and my own company, Vanke.

China accuses rich countries of reneging on climate promises

That’s 98 real estate companies and more than 2,000 upstream suppliers committed to taking action to reduce their carbon footprints. I believe that, together, we are pioneers towards the future of the sector, and that the only direction for the initiative is to expand, as more companies see the benefits to their business and to the world of taking climate action.

Since its launch, the initiative has developed green procurement standards for five major construction materials and compiled a publicly available “white list” of 575 suppliers taking action to reduce their emissions. Both of these resources can help companies make concrete decisions to reduce their carbon emissions throughout the supply chain.

To encourage and accelerate actions such as this from across China’s booming business sector, in 2014, I initiated C Team, an organisation tasked with working specifically on climate action from China’s business sector. Along with partners, we run training and capacity building events for companies keen to discover what they can do to reduce their carbon footprints.

Last year, we announced the China Business Climate Action and launched a set of guiding principles, laying out eight key areas for strategic climate action, including renewable energy, green finance and carbon markets, building efficiency and green transport.

China and cities are leading climate change battle, the world must follow

In 2009, long before we established C Team, I spoke at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen as a representative of 100 Chinese companies. At last year’s conference, I was representing almost 1 million Chinese companies, which includes member companies of the industry associations and federations, who are co-organisers of the China Business Climate Action, and supply chains of big companies like Vanke and JD.Com.

The growth is spectacular and I am proud and more than a little awed that so many Chinese companies are stepping up to the challenge. The potential here is huge.

Last year’s 12 months of climate warnings and the crystal-clear message from the world’s leading climate scientists told us that climate action needs to come from all quarters. Businesses, big and small, are a vital part of the picture. The hundreds of thousands of Chinese companies that are taking action are helping to lead the way to a more sustainable future. My team and I will continue to encourage more companies to step up to this global challenge, and we will continue to thank all of them for the contributions they are making.

This year, governments around the world will be readying themselves to up their emissions-reduction pledges. As they take that step, business must also step up and do even more. We need more companies and more action. This planet needs us all.

Wang Shi founded Vanke in 1984 and led it to become the world’s largest residential home developer and a Fortune 500 company. He now sits on the board of the World Wildlife Fund US and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council, with a focus on forests, biodiversity and climate change