Global Environmental Challenges and the role of China, Germany and Russia in resolving them

30 May 2019

Speech by the Director of Asia Center for Studies and Translation and a member of the CODESRIA, Ahmed Moustafa, at the meeting of the Yalta Civilization Club.


On Thursday, May 23, 2019, Dr. Sohail Farah invited me as coordinator of the Pitirim Sorokin - Nikolay Kondratiev International Institute  - “one of the most outstanding Russian think tanks” to speak in English at an important symposium on current environmental issues threatening the world and discuss applicable solutions and role of New Powers, including Russia, in addressing these problems. This event was held at the Institute of Economic Strategies of Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.


First, we need to ask an important question: why do we consider Germany, Russia and China?


Simply, they are currently promising powers in the world that will replace Neo-Liberalism, since China and Germany represent the first two real economies, while Russia is the largest country in terms of mineral wealth represented in its oil and natural gas reserves. In addition, at the present time, three countries prioritize a greater importance to environmental research, as they have common environmental problems, and finally only three of them will realize our dream of the Greater Eurasia.


Environmental Issues of Russia


One of the biggest environmental issues in Russia is deforestation, which has run rampart due to heavy illegal logging in accessible woodland regions. According to the World Wildlife Fund, heavy logging leads to high levels of erosion and greater carbon dioxide levels. Since a staggering 19% of the world’s forest reserves are located in Russia, the deforestation in this country alone accounts for between 300 to 600 million tons of the 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) that are sequestered each year as a result of global deforestation.


Nuclear contamination of the countryside is another major environmental concern for the country. Although Russian authorities claim that the levels of the current reactor emissions cannot cause harm to human health, some still afraid the repetition of Chernobyl incident in Ukraine in 1986 and Fukushima 2011 in Japan.


Despite being a country that is rich with water supplies (approximately 25% of the Earth’s total freshwater reserves), Russia continues to face difficulties in maintaining the cleanliness in its water supply systems. Additionally, water contamination in the country’s capital of Moscow has also become increasingly concerning, especially following a recent report conducted by Greenpeace that found mercury levels within Moscow to be 20 times higher than the minimum accepted levels.


Environmental Policies of Russia


Critics have pointed out that the enforcement of Russian ecological laws is somewhat lax. Critics of Russian environmental policy also point to a dismantling of the country’s environmental agencies.


In addition to an apparent decline in governmental policy, ecological organizations like WWF Russia and Green Peace Russia have noted that they feel a lack of support from the Kremlin. In November 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin clamed that environmental conditions in 15 percent of Russian territory is unsatisfactory and added that Russia must change its environmental policy or be “left with nothing” despite having vast territories and quantities of resources.


The adverse effects associated with climate change in Russia have been predicted to cause economic damage that can reach up to $4.3 billion each year by 2025. In 2013, the Russian republic of Tatarstan announced the development of a €100 million fund to invest in bio-fuels and electric car batteries. It is reported that the fund provides financial support in the amount of 5 to 25 million euros for various projects in the field of clean technologies.


Is there a Clean Future for Russia?


How much Russia embraces clean technology will likely be a function of oil prices and international politics. Other countries are moving slowly away from the mass consumption of fossil fuels, therefore, Russia will be forced to embrace this movement or risk being left out in the cold.


Environmental Issues of China


The rapid industrialization and population growth in China over the last century have also led the country to become one of the most polluted places in the world. While a large industrial base and millions of motor vehicles significantly contribute to China’s notorious air pollution, the biggest contribution of this environmental issue is a result of the country’s numerous coal-fired power plants.


Recently, it has been reported that approximately 70% of groundwater samples that were taken in various areas of China were proved to be suitable for human consumption. This is 67.9% overall compared to samples taken in 2017. The study involved an analysis of samples taken from 2,050 different testing sites that were particularly interested in measuring the concentrations of phosphorous, ammonium nitrate and chemical oxygen demand (COD).


China is also dealing with rampant soil erosion and desertification which is a type of land degradation that is a result of previously fertile soil transforming into arid land due to poor agricultural practices and land management, as well as extreme climate change.


Environmental Policies of China


China’s ruling Communist party has admitted that regulatory steps need to be taken to resolve the country’s numerous environmental issues. In 2013, China’s economic planning agency released a regulatory roadmap to combat climate change. The government also pledged $275 billion over the next five years toward cleaning up the country’s air pollution.


To achieve these reductions, Beijing, for example, closed several coal-fired power plants and banned the burning of coal for heat in surrounding areas, which was originally faced with a great deal of opposition.


The new 2018-2020 Three Year Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky War will be applied to all cities in China, whereas the original plan implemented in 2013 was applied only to specific target cities like Beijing, Tianjin and the Pearl River Delta areas. This new plan is specifically focused on reducing the emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides by 10% and 15%, respectively, by 2020.


Despite the condition of China’s environment, or perhaps because of it, recent investments into China’s research and development of clean technology have been much larger as compared to similar investments that have been made in both the United States and the European Union.


According to CNN, in 2012, China invested $65 billion into improving and developing wind power plants. Investments into wind and other renewable energy sources are largely driven by incentives from the Chinese government, as the ruling party tries to meet its goal to gain 20% of its energy from renewable sources by the year of 2030.


Environmental Issues of Germany


Like many industrialized nations, Germany encounter a significant air pollution problem, but unlike other Western countries it has worsened in recent years.


The Government of Germany adopted a policy of phasing out the country’s nuclear power plants. To do so, the government allowed for utilities to burn more coal and as a result, the air pollution levels in 2012 and 2013 were two of the highest since the 1980s.


According to a 2018 pole by Statistic, 36% of respondents believed that global warming was the most important environmental issue facing Germany today.


Germany Ecological Challenges


One of the largest environmental topics of discussion in 2018 is the legal battle between Germany’s main energy provider, RWE and BUND,  and an environment non-profit organisation trying to defend the Hambach forest. Approximately 37% of the country’s electricity is generated by lignite coal, though the country is attempting to replace this need with renewable energy. The Hambach forest is 12000 years old and has been slowly destroyed, leaving on 300 hectares remaining.


Environmental Policies of Germany


One effort involves the increasing efficiency of the resources use. The German government has set a goal to use fewer resources while maintaining the same amount of prosperity. Thus, according to a 2014 report, efficient use of raw materials in 2020 is expected to be double that of 1994.


The Germany government has also aggressively pursued the implementation of renewable energy production. In 2013, 12 percent of final energy consumption came from renewable energy sources, according to the European Environmental Agency.


Clean Technology in Germany


Germany is often mentioned among the world leaders in clean technology and, according to the United Nations Framework for Climate Change, the number of German clean technology patents more than tripled between 2007 and 2013. Solar energy makes up a large part of Germanys renewable push, responsible for more than 900 patents in 2013.


Germans are also intently focus on wind power innovation, with 800 patents in 2013. These patents involve aspects of rotor blades, integration into the grid, offshore wind farms and electricity storage. However, consulting firm Roland Berger Strategy Consultants has projected green technologies to comprise 14 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product by 2020. In 2017, Germany was able to generate 36% of its electricity with clean energy generation alone.


Common Vision towards Better International Ecological Conditions


Silk Road Initiative by China in 2014 is a good opportunity for the world to review international ecological conditions, because after the US withdrawal from Paris Climate Convention in 2017, other powers in the world should take care of their own interests, to carry out joint work plan to fight pollution as far as they can.


Here I am talking about all of China, Germany and Russia for the greater economic ties that connect each other, and, as we mentioned above, they have appropriate and sufficient funds for joint effort (Research & Development) to work together on better alternative clean energy, then generalize their successful feasible ideas to the whole world.


Media is also an important platform to raise the awareness about the importance of intact environment not only for ordinary people worldwide, but for decision makers and business lobbies who think that they will be affected negatively in terms of profit loss by strict environmental laws and the applications of green industrialization. Undoubtedly, more investments and businesses without EIA (Environmental impact assessment), will achieve gains on the short term, but humanitarian and environmental losses will increase dramatically in the medium and long term. Many countries, for example, cannot offer proper treatment for millions who has cancer or hepatitis caused by pollution and improper environment.


Digitalization is an important factor in this regard, as it is reachable to everyone especially youth via their own cell-phones. There is an important issue I always shed the light on - the importance of creating a joint international search engine and software programs analogue to Google and Microsoft, as the latter are used for surveillance and for the current unprecedented media war by demonizing the others who are not yielding to US and Britain supremacy. This project will really save all our scientists and scholar efforts, without being hacked or being exposed to plagiarism by USA and Britain (as an example, see the current war between Huawei and Google, or the fact that one Chinese mobile application "Wechat" achieved 1.3 billion business deal per annum).


Networking among ecological research centers, universities, NGOs and media is a very important step to create innovative green solutions for the environment. I believe, Shenzhen city in China is a model in this regard, as by the coming 5 years its electric cars and vehicles produced by BYD company will be the mainstream production and it will be spread all-over China.


Using methane compactors instead of burning waste is also feasible with a high degree of probability. But here it is important to work on the use of bacteria that can give us more energy. It is also important to dispose of waste, as this reduces heat generation by 20 times.


Finally, bearing in mind that quality environment is one of the most important human rights and not a luxury as some is thinking, China currently applies very restrict environmental conditions over any domestic or foreign investors to reach the proper level of intact environment by 2020 despite the population of 1.6 billion.