This is an article I wrote for China Daily as input to the follow-up of the 18th National Congress. The article emphasizes dialogue as well as two ideas for global sustainability that I hope to develop further during 2013:
- The “9 billion filter for innovation and business development". This approach was developed during my time in WWF and later used for the Low-Carbon Leaders project under the UNGC. I think there are more opportunities to use the concept and I would like to develop a proposal for a “sustainable innovation tax on luxury goods”, this could help both sustainable innovation, but also address growing inequity. China for example is experiencing a rapidly growing income gap and struggle with innovation, so such a tool might be of interest.
- A “Global Risk (and opportunity) Indicator”. I did first official presentation of this idea/initiative during the CASS Forum on Equitable Access to Sustainable Development (EASD) the 21st of November in Beijing linked to the launch of the Chinese translation of László Szombatfalvy’s book. The next step is to discuss the possibilities further during COP18 in Doha.
The full text of the article is available below, and on China Daily’s webpage here.
The power of dialogue
New leadership reaffirms commitment to environmental, social, cultural and economic development
Many important ideas were presented during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, but from a global perspective four messages are of particular interest. Those messages relate to dialogue, science, the planet and equity.
From a global perspective, the most important sentence during the 18th National Congress might have been when Xi Jinping ended his address to the media on Nov 16 with, "Just as China needs to learn more about the world, the world needs to learn more about China".
Regardless of what global challenges we talk about, dialogue must be at the center in the early 21st century. We now live in a situation when the world will face unprecedented global challenges like climate change, natural resource depletion, growing income differences, pandemics, terrorism, cyber crime and financial turmoil.
No country or group can solve these challenges on their own, but through dialogue and cooperation these challenges can be reduced, and turned into opportunities. Dialogue can support sustainable development through innovative green development in business and new lifestyles with better quality of life.
Dialogue is not the same thing as agreement on everything, but to respect and listen to the other voice. Too often foreigners still want to "teach" China things, especially in the area of global challenges. The truth is that Western countries have not solved any of the global problems. Though they have incrementally reduced the threat, very often they have only put aside the problems. Learning to listen to China and understanding the need to bring people out of poverty in a sustainable way is the first important step to ensure that we can focus on real solutions to global challenges.
As Xi noted, the challenge is also on the Chinese side, where many people, especially those with little experience of actually working with foreigners, think that China is so special and unique that no one from the outside can understand it. It is true that China is special and unique, but so are all countries in the world. No person, Chinese or foreigner, can fully understand China in all its aspects. With 5,000 years of cultural history, even the most knowledgeable scholar will only know a very small portion of China.
The arrogance of some foreigners, especially Westerners, should, however, not be used as an excuse for dismissing everyone outside China as not capable of understanding China. In the same way, people from China can help provide a fresh eye on the rest of the world, people from other parts of the world can provide important ideas and solutions that will have significant implication for how China will develop. So it is very true that "China needs to learn more about the world".
Beside the clear signal regarding dialogue, the new leadership also continued and strengthened China's commitment to environmental considerations. Instead of approaching care for the planet as an add-on, it was made clear that environmental, social, cultural and economic development must be seen as equal and integral parts as we move forward.
The fact that we only have one planet with limited resources might seem obvious. Still the global community largely ignores the fact that ecology is the base for life and economy is only a tool. With a scientific approach, China can provide important inspiration and guidance as the world is developing a framework based on science and equity, and also contribute to an economy for the planet and all people.
Here are two examples of possible areas for discussions based on ideas from the 18th Party congress.
First, there is a possibility to combine a scientific approach, global environmental care and equity in order to create tools for the 21st century. An example of such a tool could be called a "9 billion filter for innovation and business development". This tool would help the world focus on the kind of solutions that 9 billion people can use without destroying the planet. Many Western countries talk about green solutions, but often these are just solutions that make unsustainable systems slightly less unsustainable.
All major international negotiations and large businesses could use such a tool to help develop the kind of solutions that the world needs. Such a tool could also inspire initiatives such as a global luxury tax. The current trend among some of the rich to spend their money on luxury that is unsustainable and not supporting innovation needs to be challenged.
Based on such a scientific approach, sustainable innovation tax on luxury goods could be introduced on goods that do not pass the "9 billion" filter. For example, luxury handbags and jewelry could have a 100 percent tax that is used to reinvest in solutions for the poor. But if companies can demonstrate that their luxury goods will help develop solutions for everyone they would get a lower luxury tax. For example, a smart house with LED lights and smart appliances that help bring lighting and improves the indoor air quality for the rural poor.
Such a tool could help trigger discussion on the kind of lifestyle that society should encourage and what kind of inequity is acceptable. It could also help increase a global dialogue about the responsibility for rich people and companies to help address the global challenges.
Second, a scientific approach could help establish a global risk and opportunity indicator. Today there is no scientific mechanism that can identify global threats and identify the opportunities that can help deliver solutions. As the world becomes more integrated, such a mechanism could help facilitate a dialogue and collaboration based on global citizenship. There is already initial data available that could help create such an indicator, and China's scientific approach could help ensure that it becomes a credible reality.
These are just two examples of possibilities based on the messages from the 18th Party congress. Let us now move forward in the spirit of dialogue.