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China's guide to green living, explained

July 14, 2022
topics: Sustainable Consumption
by: Chermaine Lee
located in: China
tags: carbon footprint, China, consumption, sustainability

China launched a guideline teaching consumers how to reduce their carbon footprint. Here's why this matters.

Almond milk gaining rapid popularity in China’s online market; sustainable clothing brands emerging in Shanghai; sales of electric cars exploding across the country; all of these are indications that green industries have been undeniably on the rise since China pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. 

And as more and more Chinese consumers have started to jump on the green train, Beijing launched its first ever official low-carbon lifestyle guideline for citizens. The move came as part of the nation’s efforts to provide guidance for quantifying the carbon emission of people’s behaviour, and aligns with the direction in China's green action plan to "increase publicity and education for individuals and society."

The guideline lists a total of 40 green behaviours covering seven aspects: food, living, transportation, other material consumption, work and finance. 

The suggested low-carbon actions include secondhand clothes recycling, switching to plant-based meat, installing devices for renewable energy, separating trash into appropriate recycling bins, using public transportation, electric cars or biking, renting toys, signing up for online as opposed to in-person medical diagnoses, using co-working space, reducing the use of single-use products and asking for digital receipts, among others.  

slashing Consumers’ carbon footprint

This guideline could fuel consumers’ enthusiasm about slashing carbon emissions in China, according to Kathinka Furst, senior researcher at the Section for Water and Society at the Norwegian Water Research and former professor of environmental policy at Duke Kunshan University. 

"Through quantitative evaluation, consumers can clearly understand the carbon emission reduction of personal green and low-carbon behaviours," Dr Furst told FairPlanet. "Consumers with higher carbon emission reduction willingness can be more efficient in achieving their goals, which will also affect other consumers."

Consumption behaviour currently leads to over half of China’s carbon emissions, according to a government study. The study also points out that the adoption of greener consumption habits has remained slow in the country; for example, the incentive for purchasing electric vehicles is lacking. 

The government study mentions that certain public campaigns have been launched in major cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Nanjing, where app users can calculate their carbon footprint and earn rewards from categorising household waste or doing green voluntary work.

On the commercial side, banks are promoting green investment products with rewards if consumers take low-carbon actions. 

A separate research revealed that the rich are responsible for close to 60 percent of total carbon emissions from urban households between 2002 and 2012. The highest earning 10 percent of urban households produce over one-fifth of carbon emissions from urban areas. And as urbanisation rate goes up with residents’ average income, it bumps the energy consumption of the consumer goods sector, making it the second largest in the country. 

The amount is significant considering China’s swelling carbon emissions. In 2019 alone, as China produced more greenhouse gas emissions than all developed countries combined - the 27 EU member states and all members from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - a report by Rhodium Group shows. 

Education is key

The guideline is likely going to work particularly well in raising awareness among China’s youth. The younger generation (people aged 18 to 24) reportedly finds climate information from the government the most credible, a far cry from the country’s scientific institutions, green non-profit organisations or media, a 2020 report from the China Youth Climate Action Network indicates. 

Most of this age group is willing to switch to a low-carbon lifestyle, and nearly 70 percent are willing to pay a higher consumption price or tax rate to protect the environment. 

Other age groups might need further guidance in order to adopt these 40 suggestions, Dr Furst added. 

"What Chinese institutions need to explore is how to apply the guidelines to the lives of the public. Since group standards do not have compulsory enforceability, how to encourage the whole society to abide by them consciously can be added."

Scarfing down copious amounts of food, for instance - a trend that evolved as a luxury symbol and for boosting online following - has become a fixture in Chinese culture, and experts believe it would likely be hard for Beijing to eradicate, even with its recent food waste law.

The expert told FairPlanet that a fundamental change has to come from education and awareness campaigns. 

China’s low-carbon policies are only effective in reducing 1.83 percent of carbon emissions each year, a far cry from the over 5 percent of the average annual growth rate. These policies are also found to have a bigger impact on urban households than their rural counterparts. 

China vowed to reach carbon peak by 2030, and at the same time slash its annual carbon per unit of GDP from 60 percent. Beijing identified several cities to implement low-carbon policies back in 2010, such as promoting low-carbon production and transformation of family lifestyle to low-carbon consumption. 

Chinese consumers’ awareness might be catching up, Dr Furst said. 

"The environmental protection awareness of the Chinese public has rapidly increased in the past 20 years. In my opinion, green transportation behaviours, which are most closely related to the public, can effectively reduce carbon emissions. 

"The green and low-carbon economic development mode of 'low consumption, low pollution and low waste is what China pursues. Green transportation can reduce resource consumption, the negative impact on the climate and the pressure of economic development on the environment."

Image by pxhere.

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Chermaine Lee
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Yu Yuan at her shop in Beijing. China set a goal to reach peak emissions before 2030 and zero them out by 2060, and a key mission of the government's roadmap to meet those targets is a green lifestyle for all people.
© Gilles Sabrie/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A dish of spaghetti Bolognese made with plant-based omnipork. Start-up Green Monday has a new food challenge to convince Chinese consumers to try its lab-grown meatless pork.
© Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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