Home > From the tavern: Innovation stories and opinions > Let’s learn from China innovative environmental action

Let’s learn from China innovative environmental action

Whether it is about environment protection or minority rights, China-bashing is a popular sport in the West, only tempered by greed at the prospects that the Chinese market offers for Western exports and fear about how the Chinese central bank might use its gigantic foreign currency reserves. Yet, it strikes me that when we make a mess of our own Nations or States of, say, 50 million inhabitants – virtually no progress on eradicating poverty, isolation and radicalisation of cultural minorities, failure to reform the financial system, mounting debt, etc – and by contrast contemplate the achievements of a government that leads a population 20 times larger, it is not greed that should temper the bashing, but a sense of humility.

Is China perfect? Of course, not. But I am impressed by its ability to observe, learn, and take innovative action. Here is an example about environmental sustainability.

After the catastrophic flooding of the Yangtze River in 1998, which killed thousands and displaced millions, the Chinese Academy of Sciences identified that the flood risk was exacerbated by deforestation in the upper drainage basin of the river. Innovative thinking? Probably not. People who’ve watched TV reports about the increasing frequency of flooding in their own region, have heard the argument about deforestation, even if they’ve seen precious little in way of addressing it other than by consolidating dikes with yet more concrete.

What is innovative in the case of China is the doing. $100bn have been committed to a series of eco-compensation programmes designed to return large areas of agricultural land to forest or grassland and implement a logging ban across entire regions, while designing payments not only to compensate for the loss of cultivated land, but also to reduce small farmers’ vulnerability to crop yield fluctuation. Social innovation mixed with eco-innovation in action.

Beyond the point about China, this is a powerful reminder that innovation is not just about thinking and creativity, but also about doing. It is actually less about coming up with radically new ideas than it is about having the courage and drive to be the first to implement ideas that may have been floated for years but never tried. It is about what the corporate world calls time-to-market.

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