Belt and Road Initiative's 'new vision' (article in China Daily)

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Op-ed in China Daily

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The Belt and Road Initiative is one of the most important initiatives on the planet right now. Not because of its economic and geographical magnitude, but because of its potential to create something new and much needed. The initiative has the potential to take a significant step toward a 21st-century sustainable network that connects all countries in a way that benefits everyone on more equal terms.

In order for Belt and Road to be the first major infrastructure project to integrate a digital sustainability perspective for the 21st century, and actually deliver on the ground, global collaboration is needed.

At China's 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last month, the Belt and Road Initiative was included in the Party's Constitution. There now can be no doubt about the long-term commitment on the Chinese side. Minor delays and setbacks are therefore less important, but partnerships that support the initiative's ambitious agenda, especially the sustainability and digitalization agenda, are needed. Here, the European Union could play an important role, especially in central and eastern areas where significant investment will occur.

At the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in May, President Xi Jinping summarized the sustainability and digitalization aspect of Belt and Road in the following way:

For sustainability, "we should pursue the new vision of green development and a way of life and work that is green, low-carbon, circular and sustainable. Efforts should be made to strengthen cooperation in ecological and environmental protection and build a sound ecosystem so as to realize the goals set by the (United Nations') 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

For digitalization, "we should pursue innovation-driven development and intensify cooperation in frontier areas such as digital economy, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum computing, and advance the development of big data, cloud computing and smart cities so as to turn them into a digital silk road of the 21st century."

An infrastructure project with such an approach to sustainability and digitalization is very different from what we see today around the world, including in the EU and China.

In the same way as we cannot any longer only think of paper books in a world with e-books, or CDs in a world where it is possible to stream music, we cannot think of roads, bridges and tunnels only as physical constructions. We need to include all-new sustainable ways that can provide the service the old infrastructure used to provide.

Today, people can have meetings virtually and work remotely, and we are just in the beginning of a revolution with additive manufacturing. Rapid technological development in key areas allows goods and people to move in new ways, from drones to ultra-high-speed trains. The combined result of trends like these is the possibility of a radically different infrastructure, one that can be globally sustainable.

We must ask what goods must move physically, what can be produced more efficiently locally, what can be dematerialized, and what can use new smart means of transportation, in order to ensure global sustainability and fair economic development.

Further, the physical infrastructure must merge with the digital. A smart resource-efficient and fossil-free physical infrastructure can even be a net producer of renewable energy in many cases.

For international collaboration to happen, it is important that the vision and goals of the Belt and Road Initiative are communicated; a dedicated webpage would be appropriate. On this webpage, different aspects, including digitalization and sustainability, but also peace, prosperity and innovation, could be reported in close to real time. This would allow interested stakeholders to help improve and access relevant information.

A global sustainability filter should also be developed and implemented in all strategic projects. Such a filter would increase the probability that all infrastructure projects, not just Belt and Road projects, support a sustainable global economy in 2100. This future world is likely to include at least 11 billion people, must emit no greenhouse gas emissions, and must be based on a sustainable and equitable use of natural resources.

If the Belt and Road Initiative contributes to such global sustainability, it will be a physical and digital road toward an ecological civilization.

The author is founder of Sweden-based consultancy 21st Century Frontiers. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily European Weekly 11/24/2017 page9)

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Without US, progress still possible (Article in China Daily)


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The retreat by the White House from the international sustainability debate could free rest of the world to find solution to daunting environmental challenges

There was an unprecedented outcry from many leading sustainability experts - especially in the United States - when Donald J. Trump was elected as president. Several challenges exist, but his lack of understanding when it comes to climate science and other environmental challenges, as demonstrated during the campaign process, is deeply troubling.

There are many other difficult challenges, but from a global perspective there could also be a number of interesting opportunities. If the next US government continues with the campaign's disrespect for science, lack of interest in climate change, reluctance to engage in global challenges, etc., the US will find itself isolated.

Such a situation presents an opportunity - one could argue a responsibility - for countries like China to take on a much more active role in global sustainability.

Before we consider the opportunities, let's remember that while the US is still a very important country, it is still only one among many on the planet. US influence is also dwindling as a new generation of countries are emerging (and re-emerging) on the global scene.

So, in some ways Trump's lack of interest in global sustainability issues could provide a situation similar to the one we would be likely to face anyway in a few years, where global leadership will come from outside the US.

It is easy to forget that more than 7 billion people, 94 percent, of the global population, are living outside the US. Even from an economic perspective, 75 (nominal) or 87 (PPP) percent of the global economy is found outside the US.

Given the current situation, the world is likely to be presented with an opportunity for significant improvements on a global level in three areas.

First is the role of science in society. There is a significant opportunity for the rest of the world to strengthen the status and role of science. There is now room for a global science initiative with a huge budget and a mandate to begin the work to create new institutions. Such an initiative could be launched by the G20 and include all interested countries. This initiative could explore how we can increase collaboration around key future issues, from space exploration to the next generation of particle accelerators.

Equally important is to strengthen the level of general education in society. Here, the media, both old and new, have a significant role to play. For the first time in human history, we could see a global science initiative by all major news organizations around the world.

To ensure engagement from the younger generation, stakeholders like the Kahn Academy and leading science communicators, such as Derek Muller of Veritasium and video journalist Brady Haran, could help develop new ways of communicating science and support global scientific education.

Not only is scientific knowledge important for many future jobs, it is increasingly important to understand the world as a citizen. Without an understanding of science, the assumptions, methodologies, probability estimations, uncertainty, global challenges like climate change and pandemics are difficult to understand.

Second is global governance. With the withdrawal of the United States, the rest of the world could potentially see the first attempt at real global governance. This might be the most significant opportunity from a long-term perspective. We need to move from an international to a global perspective; we need to move from a reactive to a proactive agenda; we need to move from global competition to global collaboration. Perhaps most important, we need to move beyond an international perspective to a global perspective because members of the next generation see themselves as global citizens to a much larger degree than today.

The urgent need to work together as a global community to solve global sustainability challenges has never been greater. There are at least 12 global risks that threaten human civilization, and it is only a matter of time before the old structures need to be replaced or fundamentally reformed if we are to avoid a global catastrophe. When structures fundamentally change, old stakeholders tend to cling on to what they have. With the US potentially becoming uninterested in proactive global governance, the probability for a smooth transition might now be higher than it ever will be.

Third is city collaboration. For many issues we need concrete action all around the world. Climate change, for example, requires that emissions all around the world must be reduced, and that must start now.

Slow progress in international multilateral negotiations so far will only be slower with a reluctant US. However, much of the actual implementation falls on local governments, mainly cities. New tools for city collaboration should be a global priority, as this could accelerate the uptake of sustainable solutions as well as strengthen global collaboration.

In all three areas above, China has a leading role to play. China is one of the most, if not the most, science-driven society on the planet. Few governments have the scientific skill set or culture that China has. Its society is also supported by media, including initiatives like ScienceNet. It's a population that has significant understanding and respect for science.

China, together with other emerging countries, has also made significant progress when it comes to new international financial institutions. The G20 presidency demonstrated China's capacity and interest in long-term global policy-making.

In China, there are also several leading cities, such as Baoding, Hebei province, that are already leading providers of sustainable solutions. The country's network of low-carbon cities could become a core part of a global network of zero-carbon cities with global exports.

In conclusion, we are likely to see some significant challenges and frictions over the coming years, but we should not ignore the unique opportunities for historic changes that lie before us.

The author is the founder of 21st Century Frontiers in Sweden. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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Beijing’s plan shows path to the future (article China Daily)

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Unhampered by old vested interests, the 13th Five-Year Plan is a good guide for how the world can support global sustainability

Different parts of China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) have been discussed intensively in recent months. Now, after the National People's Congress has approved the plan, it is time to put the full final document in a global context.

This five-year plan is probably one of the most important documents on the planet when it comes to long-term global security and sustainability. There are many aspects that deserve further elaboration, but three parts are of particular importance for governments, companies and NGOs around the world that want to support global sustainability.

Before discussing the three key sustainability areas of the plan, a historic perspective is needed to fully understand its importance.

From a Chinese perspective, this might be the most important five-year plan ever. For all previous plans, China could draw on inspiration from other countries. Now, China is moving so fast into uncharted territories that it is hard to use any country as inspiration to any significant degree. The transition from an old industrial economy to a new and sustainable service economy also requires the kind of systemic overview that the plan provides.

From a global perspective, this is also a unique five-year plan. If implemented successfully, the 13th Five-Year Plan would position China as the global leader when it comes to the next economic revolution. On the research side, it is now on the same level as the European Union, Japan and the United States. But when it comes to actually ensuring implementation for the transition, the five-year plan is ahead and is a global reference document.

This leadership when it comes to strategies for implementation is not because China has better experts, but rather because its planning processes are not held back by old vested interests in the same way as in Western countries. The result is a strategy in which, instead of setting the old economy against the new, China focuses on how the old industries can help and be helped in the transition to the connected and sustainable service economy.

From a global perspective, three areas are especially important to support and ensure positive development in China that will be crucial for global sustainability.

First, promote new business models that support sustainability. These new models will be based on concepts such as connectivity, sharing, circular economy, networked solutions, transformative transparency, and global sustainability. For new business models to be sustainable they must deliver solutions that are so resource efficient that 10 billion people or more can use the service without destroying the planet.

Such solutions tend to require new clusters of companies, and these need support. Among the actions needed in China and abroad are a review of current incentive structures, new guidance for public procurement, smarter taxation, and a review of old laws that today support old unsustainable companies while holding back new sustainable clusters of companies. New business models often are much more resource efficient, using information and communication technology together with new materials and robotic solutions, so it is important that the benefits are shared within society. If sharing is not ensured, inequity on the national and international levels is likely to explode, given already unsustainable levels today.

Second, open international innovation platforms for global public goods should be established. Support for the establishment of a permanent international coordinating body for global public goods is one important aspect. It could also include strategic support for smart city development in China that supports an accelerated uptake of a new generation of sustainable solutions around the world.

Third, it is time to ensure that we can turn global catastrophic risks into drivers for innovation. There are already a number of challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and nuclear weapons where better collaboration is needed. But there are also emerging challenges in areas such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and artificial intelligence. All these areas have many things in common and a coordinated approach is needed. The sooner it can begin the better.

As acknowledged in the five-year plan, the transition from an old industrial economy based on traditional drivers to a new service economy based on new drivers will be difficult and sometimes painful. However, there is no realistic alternative. The old economy is destroying the planet and is not resource efficient enough to allow the approximately 10 billion people that will live on the planet by 2100 to live a good life.

Action in the three areas above will not cost very much, but will be crucial to secure a strategic transition to a sustainable economic system globally and establish a new generation of international collaboration. The international support for global sustainability that the 13th Five-Year Plan can deliver must begin now.

The author is an entrepreneur and founder of 21st Century Frontiers in Sweden. He works with companies, governments and NGOs as a strategic economic, technology and innovation adviser. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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From green savings to green profit: Moving towards a 21st century green business model (Article in Economy China)

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As I saw how the old CSR perspective from the west undermined interesting work in China I spent some time trying to explain that the reactive/ 0-approach tended to take the company into a dead-end where they did not focus on what society needed, but how they could communicate a zero-impact (often though offsetting). if they wanted to use sustinability as a driver for innovation they needed to take another path. 

The last years leading companies around the world have begun to shift focus. From only working on their internal environmental problems, they now focus on how they can help provide the solutions the world needs and how their business models can change from a focus on products to the services needed in society.

The reason behind this change is that incremental improvements are not enough, new markets are growing, smart solutions are ready at the same time as we understand the need for transformative solutions. The 21st century company must focus on new green business models that deliver sustainable services and have CEO’s that take the lead.

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迈向二十一世纪的绿色商业模式 从专注节能环保到寻求绿色利润 (Article in Economy China)

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过去的几年,世界各地领先企业的关注 点都在悄然地发生着变化。不同于过去只关 注内部的环境问题,当今的企业正在专注于 如何提供符合世界市场需求的解决方案,以 及企业自身的商业模式如何从关注产品转变 为关注于社会所需要的服务。

产生如此变化是基于以下几点原因:其 一、原有改善速度过慢;其二、新市场的不 断增长;其三、智能解决方案已准备就绪; 以及我们理解了对变革性解决方案的需求。 21世纪的企业必须着眼于可提供可持续服务 的新型绿色商业模式,而且其领导者必须起 到引领作用。

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Nano-solutions for the 21st century: Unleashing the fourth technological revolution (Report)

Role: author with Eric Drexler

The world faces unprecedented global challenges related to depleting natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water, and poverty. These problems are directly linked to the physical characteristics of our current technology base for producing energy and material products. Deep and pervasive changes in this technology base can address these global problems at their most fundamental, physical level,
by changing both the products and the means of production used by 21st century civilization. The key development is advanced, atomically precise manufacturing (APM).

This report examines the potential for nanotechnology to enable deeply transformative production technologies that can be developed through a series of advances that build on current nanotechnology research. The report has ve sections:

1. Nanotechnology and global challenges
The first section discusses the basics of advanced, atomically precise nanotechnology and explains how current and future solutions can help address global challenges. Key concepts are presented and different kinds of nanotechnology are discussed and compared.

2. The birth of Nanotechnology
The second section discusses the development of nanotechnology, from the first vision fifty years ago, expanding via a scientific approach to atomically precise manufacturing thirty years ago, initial demonstrations of principle twenty years ago, to the last decade of accelerating success in developing key enabling technologies. The important role of emerging countries is discussed, with China as a leading example, together with an overview of the contrast between the promise and the results to date.

3. Delivery of transformative nanotechnologies
Here the different aspects of APM that are needed to enable breakthrough advances in productive technologies are discussed. The necessary technology base can be developed through a series of coordinated advances along strategically chosen lines of research.

4. Accelerating progress toward advanced nanotechnologies
This section discusses research initiatives that can enable and support advanced nanotechnology, on paths leading to APM, including integrated cross-disciplinary research and Identi cation of high-value applications and their requirements.

5. Possible next steps
The final section provides a short summary of the opportunities and the possibilities to address institutional challenges of planning, resource allocation, evaluation, transparency, and collaboration as nanotechnology moves into its next phase of development: nanosystems engineering.

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转型解决方案, 创造低碳未来 (leaflet)

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在当前应对气候变化的战斗中 在现有体系中采用渐进式的改进方法显然是效果不佳。 幸运的是,现今越来越多的公司采用转型解决方案。 他们把建设一个低碳型经济体制看作企业的商机,而非威胁。 这些解决方案值得我们重视。


保定/Baoding: A global “Electric Valley” for sustainable energy production? (Report)


Role: author with Rasmus Reinvang, Chen Dongmei, Stefan Henningsson, Hongpeng Lei, Li Junfeng, Ma Lingjuan, Liu Minglian, and Wang Ying

This is the simple version that does not look into the future and estimate the significant potential for Baoding to contribute to global GHG reduction from export of smart solutions. What is interesting is that these very significant contributions were still an underestimation. Still today Baoding is one of the few cities in the world that have estimated their global climate contribution though export of low-carbon solutions.  


China is the factory of the world providing us with a large variety of products at an affordable price. Lowering prices on renewable energy and energy efficiency products is also a key issue in our battle to mitigate climate change.

Baoding is recognized by the Chinese Government as a first and only industrial base for development of China’s new energy sector. The world needs a dramatic increase in renewable energy if we are to be able to secure a sustainable energy supply for the global economy and avoid dangerous climate change. Baoding is therefore a key to global sustainable development.

This is an introduction to Baoding providing an overview of Baoding’s rapid development, potential future role, some preliminary results and assessments, as background for a visit to Baoding by China Council (CCICED) and OECD embassies in Beijing.

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Re-think China's Outward Investment Flows (Report)

Role: Co-author with Baijin Long

Two hundred years ago, China was the largest economy on earth, and in a few decades, the country will most certainly reclaim that position. There can therefore be little doubt that the future of China will shape the global economy; the question is, in what direction?

This report sets out to examine one of the greatest challenges in the 21st century, namely, how to combine global economic development and a sustainable use of natural resources.

The objective is to encourage a constructive discussion regarding the rapidly increasing outward investment flows from China, from a global sustainability perspective. The report explores the roles of the different actors involved and the manner in which the underlying trends driving this outward investment can be directed to ensure sustainable resource use.

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Chinese Companies in the 21st Century (Report)


Role: Co-author with Peng Lei and Baijin Long

This report is based on a survey of 182 of the largest and most important Chinese companies. WWF would like to highlight the following summarized results and outline possible steps forward.

1. A significant minority (22%) of Chinese companies say they are going beyond current regulation and some (13%) are even suggesting tougher rules. Many of these companies also have concrete suggestions that could help China become a leader in the provision of sustainable goods and serv- ices, not only in China but also for the rest of the world, and thereby move beyond the existing CSR discussion.

2. While one group of companies takes environmental issues seriously and is proactive, a large group could be described as almost hostile to environ- mental issues and do not even want to engage in discussions. 39% of respondents said “many” or “very many” Chinese companies were breaking the law, and 57% said companies were trying to lower standards.

3. There is a need to develop domestic solutions that support export of prod- ucts and services that help the environment, according to 78% of the com- panies surveyed.

4. 85% think traditional Chinese philosophical concepts like “union of nature and man” could help both Chinese and foreign companies become more environmentally friendly. 96% thought that the “circular economy”, a modern concept used widely in China today, also could be of help.

5. 85% of the companies said there is a need for stronger rules for environ- mental reporting, transparency and monitoring for large companies. Only 2% said there wasn’t and 13% said they didn’t know.

6. 53% said they would be willing to engage with NGOs like WWF in discus- sion about how sustainable development can be promoted, even though NGOs are not yet key actors in China and for many Chinese companies the idea of policy work with NGOs is new.

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