Still dirty! Time to make net zero clean
by China Water Risk 18 June, 2021
Still dirty! Time to make net zero clean: Let’s face it, the tech we need to get to net zero is still dirty and thirsty to make. With most of this is still sourced in one way or another from China, this month we take a look at its newly released state of environment report on freshwater as well as where it stands on marine ecology. But we are all still far from delivering a truly clean net zero go with pollution suspected in Tesla’s supply chain, and there are 3 bottlenecks to future-tech. But hope comes in the form of a digital marketplace for waste and improving APAC corporate governance.
The timeline is ever-shrinking. The WMO announced that there is a 40% chance that at least one of the next five years (2021-2025) will reach 1.5°C. This is up from a 20% chance by 2030. This collapsing timeline means that 1.5°C could just be four years away! We are now 75 years ahead of our Paris Agreement target date of 2100.
Given this, the G7’s climate actions disappoint – the US$100bn pledge to help developing countries decarbonize was reiterated when it should have already been raised, after all it was first announced by the group in 2009.
Also why wasn’t China at the table? It’s not only the largest emitter of GHGs but also a significant producer of Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) which are required to make all things clean and hi-tech to help us get to net zero.
Excluding China also means missing the chance to truly build a clean global supply chain to effect the net zero transition. So where is China on its war on pollution?
According to the 2020 State of Ecology & Environment (SOEE) report, “key targets of the ecological environment set in the 13 Five-Year-Plan (13FYP) have been met and exceeded”. Want to know if groundwater quality has improved? Or which of its 7 major rivers met the Water Ten targets? Get the stats and trends on China’s groundwater, lakes and rivers in our review.
Since pollution in rivers flow into our seas and oceans are now touted to be a new driving force of economic development in China, we also dived into the 2020 Marine Ecology & Environment Status Bulletin. There is significant improvement – Grade I (excellent) coastal area seawater quality has almost doubled in the 13FYP period, but there is much more to do. Check out our review to see which of China’s four seas is least polluted as well as the indicators monitored from heavy metals to microplastics.
China will continue to clean up, tighten regulations, up enforcement and disclosure (see the “tapping in” column) as it tai-chis toward an ecological civilization. But China cannot do it alone, surely global brands must also take responsibility? Especially those that claim to be green…
Cue Tesla. China’s top pollution watchdog IPE queried Tesla over pollution concerns and when Tesla declined to respond, it prompted IPE to launch an investigation into Tesla’s supply chain environmental performance. The results are disturbing; Linda Greer and Shanshan Ding share their concerns with us that Tesla could be sourcing from 14 companies that have violated a number of environmental laws and regulations on both air and water fronts.
Telsa’s complete silence so far signals that it could indeed be polluting under a low carbon halo. Can EV companies ensure their supply chains (especially the manufacture of lithium batteries) are not polluting the planet whilst pursuing net-zero?
Getting to a net-zero and sustainable world is easier said than done. CWR’s Debra Tan & Ronald Leung identify three bottlenecks for future-tech that could prevent us from achieving both net zero and water security. They mull over dirty & thirsty bitcoin plus China’s CRM dominance – is there enough to supply the transition? If not will new mines add to toxic water woes?
One way to resolve the materials shortfall is through recycling. Yet efforts are dismal – out of all the extracted resources in the world, only 8.6% are getting recycled or reused. Corporates need to step up as they are responsible for most of the wastes. Enter Aspire – an online innovative matching tool for material resource exchange. Already it has helped 600+ businesses divert over 45,000 tonnes of waste from landfill across Australia and its Tamanna Wadhwani explains how it can fast-track circular economy in Hong Kong.
How serious are C-suite executives towards building clean and green resilience? There is some good and bad news. The Asian Corporate Governance Association (ACGA) found that half of the large caps disclose concrete steps they are taking to address the physical risks of climate change. However, a further 20% acknowledged the risk but did not explain how they are responding to it, and a third of companies ignore it entirely.
Clearly, corporate governance is still at “low tide” but fret not, Jane Moir & Vivian Yau of the ACGA expand on six suggestions for corporates to work on. There is no time to waste as climate impacts are already here: accelerated Antarctica melt, severe droughts in Brazil/US and more floods in China … the list goes on and on.
To avoid worsening impacts, an aggressive path toward net zero is a must but not at the expense of polluting our water sources. We have worked so hard to tackle pollution and clean up water and soil in China, let’s not go back on that and let’s certainly not shift the pollution somewhere else.
So it boggles the mind that there is still no responsible sourcing platform for all things hi-tech and clean tech from electronics to EVs and renewables. We have one for palm oil, we must create one for minerals.
We must also deal with power hungry cryptocurrencies as they could undermine our carbon transition efforts. Did you know that the energy spent on bitcoin mining has already negated all the carbon savings from solar power production to date globally?
To deliver net zero and water security, we must have strategies that make sense, not ones that shoot ourselves in the foot. Right now, “green” may not be clean; and clean-tech may well be dirty – we must rectify this otherwise, we will literally mine ourselves to an uninhabitable earth in the name of saving the planet.
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