This article is the second of three articles reporting on industry development initiatives in cleantech from around Asia gathered through meetings with investors, companies and governments in the countries. The focus on how cleantech drives jobs, investment and trade across Asia is enabling its leadership of the sector to be enhanced.
Urban air quality is an environmental issue that cannot be hidden away in western provinces or poor suburbs. The fact that Beijing’s rich and powerful suffer from the same ‘Beijing cough’ as the poor on the back streets a few blocks from Tiananmen Square is great news for China and for cleantech suppliers globally.
Winter in Beijing is intolerable for many foreigners and this situation has declined rapidly over the last three years. Expats with children are heading home and doing exercise outside is unthinkable.
Emergency powers have been put in place so that, in bad times, people are protected through closing schools and banning 50% of traffic. International schools have installed positive pressure to provide clean air environments and headlines report of 8 year olds dying of cancer from the pollution.
And the problem is not isolated to Beijing. In November, Shanghai recorded its worse day of air pollution on record. A 300km train journey to Shanghai from Nanjing showed that there was not one clearing spot in the pollution over the entire journey. The irony of travelling at 300kmh on one of the world most sophisticated fast trains through some of the world’s worst air pollution was lost on most of the passengers. Furthermore, the spectacular daily sunsets caused by the particulates do not delight in any of the Chinese shepherds.
The issue is not restricted just to the air. As China has broken records in its growth in economic wealth over the last 30 years, it has destroyed rivers, polluted land and killed many many people through pollution. The rich world may ‘tut-tut’ at this but it is not that many years ago that our richer countries had similar problems. In the 1950s, my father had to change is white shirt three times due to the smog when he worked as a doctor in Manchester, UK. So this is not a moral issue, it is just a side effect of development.
The challenge for China now is to clean up the mess whilst continuing with the development plans. This is why the country is turning to cleantech solutions and is avidly scouring the world for the best options that can be utilised quickly. Governments at all levels have strict targets on reducing pollution and they will happily use solutions from around the world.
Most of this trip to China was with six of the top companies from the Australian Cleantech Competition. Each of the companies was much sought after by Chinese partners. BluGlass’ LED manufacturing technology, Global Future Solutions’ intensive farming bacterial product, RayGen’s concentrating solar design and UniFlow’s biogas generator all created excitement. The two products that created most excitement in China however were those that provided clean air solutions: Ptronik’s dust management system and SilenceAir’s fresh air ventilation product. In Nanjing, China’s ancient capital, in Jiangsu Province Environment Protection Agency hosted the companies and hoped to find solution for its population of 79 million. Austrade provided excellent service connecting them with valuable partners, interested investors and real customers. The companies were interviewed on local TV and met with senior politicians.
In Shanghai, we hosted an investor dinner with some of China’s leading cleantech investors on the banks of the Huangpu River on the city’s famous Bund. The investors know the strength of the demand and want to back the best technologies to establish local operations. In Hong Kong, partners were queuing up trying to work with companies and to help them enter the mainland China market.
There is of course a challenge in doing business in China, with the key being to connect with trusted partners that can manage the quirks of the local market. In many ways this is no different to the strategy required for any international market.
Treating contaminated sites, providing green building products for inclusion in the continued massive construction effort, delivering waste management solutions, managing chronic water shortages and cleaning up the air and water are all a truly massive challenges for China. The country is looking for global solutions and considers Australia to be a good source of those solutions. It is also spending massive amounts of money developing its own solutions.
Through all of this proactive effort, China will resolve its current environmental issues far faster than the West managed to. In the process, it is developing a massive capability to deliver cleantech solutions to the world and to benefit from the jobs, investment and trade that that will deliver.
China is fast becoming the world’s global cleantech leader through necessity. Australia can be a part of this but it must be proactive in its engagement and demonstrate its willingness to be collaborative.
John O’Brien is Managing Director of Australian CleanTech, a research and broking firm that advises cleantech companies, investors and governments and works across Australia, China, Korea and Malaysia.
To read part one in this series, Korea: Green Growth and beyond, click here