4 Reasons Why US-China Collaboration is Critical to Sustainability

At the fascinating first World Green Forum in Hong Kong earlier this summer, I was charged with addressing prospects for "green economic cooperation" between China and the U.S.

My experience forging a six-year dialogue on sustainability between businesswomen in both countries through the ongoing exchange between WNSF and the China Association of Women Entrepreneurs (CAWE) has made me an optimist on international cooperation -- at least when it comes to an issue of such urgent and passionate concern as environmental and economic health.

So I was encouraged to hear throughout the Forum -- from experts from around the world -- that cooperation is becoming a major focal point to help countries -- and companies -- move forward on economic and environmental sustainability. Over the course of the two-day forum, I heard at least four themes on the future of green cooperation, including:

1. National economic development is now a global environmental concern,
2. Global economic challenges require immediate research on more sustainable green energy,
3. Global investment in clean technologies and agriculture may mitigate climate change and boost employment, and
4. A sustainable economy depends on US-China (and Euro-China) cooperation.

Indeed, these themes were echoed by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, writing just a couple of weeks later in the Financial Times, that to rein in price pressures, China is committed to "work with other countries with common responsibilities ... to strengthen coordination of macroeconomic policies, improve the international monetary system and tackle climate change...."

In light of China's recently adopted 12th five-year plan, which proposes ambitious goals for achieving carbon emission reductions, energy efficiency and clean technology advances, these four recurring themes at the Forum -- essentially calling for a new world economic paradigm that recognizes a common planet, common resources, a common economy and a common need for social cohesion -- were particularly poignant.

1. National Development / Global Environment

For instance, in her opening Forum remarks, Prof. Sun Qixiang, Dean of the prestigious Beijing University School of Economics, pointed out that "the handling of environmental issues is bounded by the international community."

Noting that "the price [China] paid for development is immense," she added that "deterioration of ecological environment as an inevitable expense of economic development" is no longer an option.

"Nowadays a country's environmental issues are no longer confined within itself, but have obvious impact on the global environment," she said.

2. Stable Economy/Sustainable Energy

Prof. Liu Manhong, an expert on green finance and venture capital at Beijing's Renmin (People's) University, was honored at the Forum and in his remarks noted that swift action to develop and research sustainable energy is now essential in light of "current global challenges."

She added that if just 2 percent of global GDP is invested in green development in 10 core economic sectors, while the "development mode of these sectors" is changed and both private and public investment are guided "toward a green economy," then it will be possible to "reduce the risk posed by any environmental and economic crises that may hit human society in the future."

3. Clean Tech, Agriculture/Aid Employment, Climate

Prof. Shi QiQing, former Secretary General of WNSF's partner CAWE, commented that "the shift in the focus of a global economy toward investments in clean technologies and natural infrastructures like forest and soil is an optimal choice for economic growth in a real sense, a combat against climate change and [an aid to] adequate employment in the 21st century."

Indeed, the annual CAWE conference late last year on greening the economy also highlighted her points, with talks from energy and technology companies, as well as sustainable food producers.

4. US-(and Euro-) China Collaboration/Green Economy

Given the interconnections between the US and China (China owns massive quantities of US debt, and the two countries lead the world in CO2 emissions, among many other reasons), a critical step in achieving a green economy will likely be bilateral cooperation of the two.

A promising example of cross-border business collaboration I mentioned is US-based First Solar Inc.'s agreement earlier this year to work with China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Co. (CGN SEDC), Ltd. to develop a solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in Inner Mongolia.

The two companies are to combine forces on a first-phase demonstration project. Majority owner and operator CGN SEDC is performing engineering, procurement and construction, while First Solar will supply its advanced thin-film solar PV modules and offer advisory services.

Another notable example of cooperation for a green economy is IBM's 'Smart Cities' program, expanding in China, which illustrates what I'd call "collaborative innovation" -- across countries, cities and even companies, which, in fact, are also competitors.

Sustainability, which is at the heart of a "green economy," is by its very nature "multidisciplinary," requiring a new cooperative way of doing business, more open collaboration within companies -- as well as outside, with customers, government, civil society and even with traditional competitors.

Other Forum speakers, notably Europeans (Dr. Gerhard Stahl of Germany, Secretary General, EU Committee of the Regions of Germany, and Dr. Pierre Calame of France, President of the China-Europa Forum), arguing for closer Euro-China cooperation, also emphasized that "green economic progress" is about is reinvention -- of ways of doing business, of relating to business and institutions, of acting and interacting in different parts of the world and of actually working.

The ideal of a "green economy" is about re-evaluating our very values, including some of our cherished, if apparently broken, economic paradigms that have led us to forge a new way.

And that's why I'm optimistic about cooperation for a sustainable future. Because 'reinvention' for a green economy will require a kind of creativity that's likely to come only from cooperation -- a kind of creative collaboration.

World Green Forum Group

Flag photo CC-licensed by FutureAtlas.com; group photo courtesy of the author.