Barclays-Tsinghua China Water Summit: Key Takeaways

By Zachary Sadow 18 April, 2018

Barclays' Sadow recaps views from industry leaders, corporations & investors from the China water summit

Panel discussions ranged from innovative financial solutions to transboundary water challenges & more
Optimism as China increases wastewater reuse & desal
China's “ecological construction” commitment could usher in a wave of 'green' & 'blue' infrastructure investment

On World Water Day, 22 March, Barclays partnered with Tsinghua University, one of the world’s top engineering education and research institutions, to host the Barclays-Tsinghua University China Water Summit in Beijing.
The Summit brought together over 100 Chinese and global industry leaders, corporations, investors, Tsinghua University academics, and environmental groups to discuss this important topic. In China, recent moves to prioritise and protect ecology, high-grade industrial practices, and the introduction of the “Circular Economy” all represent a concerted strategy to address water and environmental challenges.

Panel discussions on innovative financial solutions, China’s transboundary water challenges & more

The conference included panel discussions on innovative financial solutions, China’s transboundary water challenges and opportunities, a discussion with executives from leading Chinese water and industrial technology companies, and an overview of China’s unique water-related risks and goals with Dr. Wang Hao, Director of the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research (click here for the agenda).
Panel collage 3
As China’s population grows to 1.5 billion by 2020 and as urbanisation intensifies, there will not be enough conventional water resources to meet demand, as roughly 2/3 of cities face water shortages and over 60% of cities live in flood areas. Public awareness of these challenges is limited, with only 27% of people aware of water shortages, according to Dr. Hao.
Many of China’s central water challenges were discussed at the Summit, in that water resources are not spread evenly and are often not where they need to be for industrial, energy, and agricultural purposes. Roughly 80% of China’s freshwater are located in the south, while nearly 40% of agriculture, 50% of power generation, and almost half of industrial activity is in the north.

China is encouraging private capital to participate in the wastewater investment opportunity…

…it is also welcoming innovative investment initiatives to better organise capital for smaller cities & rural areas

However, there are reasons to be optimistic. The country is aiming to substantially increase unconventional water resources, including reuse and desalination. Total water related spending is expected to be around USD100 billion annually, with over 80% directed towards drinking water and the balance for sewage and wastewater reuse. Further, China is encouraging private capital to participate in the wastewater investment opportunity and courting international partnerships and technology.
Beyond Beijing, Shanghai and the 13 other cities with populations in excess of 10 million people, China is welcoming innovative investment initiatives to better organise capital for smaller cities and rural areas. The World Bank has started facilitating syndicated loans for these smaller areas, allowing them to reach the capital markets and access financing more quickly.

Speaker collage

“One of the most salient takeaways… is that these developments & initiatives are taking place with ‘ecological construction’ in mind”

One of the most salient takeaways from the conference is that these developments and initiatives are taking place with “ecological construction” in mind, and with priority for conservation and the environment, as outlined by President Xi Jinping in his address to the 19th Party Congress. This commitment should usher in a wave of “green” and “blue” infrastructure investment that will allow the country to increase unconventional water resources, enhance cities’ flood resiliency, and improve its ecological footprint.
China’s rapid ascension as a global leader in renewable energy provides precedent for the country to realise opportunity out of environmental challenges. We think the same is possible for China in overcoming its water challenges. The strengthening of academic and research institutions is a critical step towards this goal, and the Barclays-Tsinghua University China Water Summit represented an important collaborative effort for this endeavour.


This event in Beijing follows the recent Barclays Water Symposium in New York (in May 2017), and the publication of Barclays’ joint Water Report – “The Water Challenge: Preserving a Global Resource”, on water and energy, by Barclays and the Columbia Water Center (see more here).


Further Reading

  • Rising To The Water Challenge – Barclays analyst Zachary Sadow shares key findings from their report with the Columbia Water Center on how US energy companies and public utilities can help alleviate water shortages through new tech and practices
  • Ministry Reform: 9 Dragons To 2 – What does China’s long-awaited ministry re-shuffle mean – who manages what and how? China Water Risk’s Woody Chan and Yuanchao Xu review the roles and impacts of the new Ministry of Ecological Environment & Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Eight Million: China & The Global Plastic Challenge – Sustainable Asia’s Marcy Trent Long & Sam Bekemans share their new podcast series “Eight Million”, which looks into the plastic waste pollution issue globally & in China and what is being done. China Water Risk is featured in episode 2
  • Connecting A New Generation Of Businesses To Water Stewardship – The CEO Water Mandate updated its Water Stewardship Toolbox. Their Peter Schulte shares how it now better connects companies to useful water stewardship resources, including tailored filters based on individual risks & needs
  • Water Stewardship: The Bright Dairy & Food Case – Chinese dairy mega company, Bright Dairy & Food, successfully used water footprint assessments to better water stewardship. Tongji University’s Hongtao Wang and Jin Xu along with WWF China’s Aihui Yang guide us through the case study
  • Two Sessions, Five Highlights For Water – An ‘ecological civilisation’ is now embedded in China’s constitution and ministerial reform has been tabled. Find out what these mean for water in our review of this year’s Two Sessions. Pay attention or risk being blindsided=
  • Is China Taking Over Global Leadership On The Environment? – Top experts, from the founder of TECONET to the Head of Asia-Pacific for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, share their thoughts at a high level panel in City University of Hong Kong. Their Sadhika Nanda reviews
  • China Steps Into Soft Power Vacuum – As the US retreats, Asit Biswas and Cecilia Tortajada explore how China is becoming the world’s leading soft power, from infrastructural development to research progress, and hurdles it faces ahead
  • What ‘Xi’s Thought’ Means For Water – One key message from Xi Jinping at the 19th National Congress was harmony between environment & economic growth, surely this bodes well for water? China Water Risk’s Feng Hu reviews

Zachary Sadow
Author: Zachary Sadow
Zachary Sadow is an energy research analyst at Barclays, and is Project Director of the Barclays-Columbia Capstone Program which is currently focused on international water project development. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham's School of Politics and International Relations focusing on energy issues and international political economy. He has a BA from the University of Florida, and was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.
Read more from Zachary Sadow →