By Piper Terrett

China hasn’t been known for its environmental agenda. The emerging superpower is currently the world’s biggest carbon emitter, as well as its largest producer and consumer of coal. Last year, to feed its growing industrialisation, it also became the world’s biggest importer of the natural resource.

Since 1990, China’s carbon emissions have risen by 287% from 2.5m metric tonnes to 9.7m metric tonnes, according to figures from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.  Although, ironically, the country is also the largest manufacturer of green technologies across the globe, these are hardly strong green credentials.

However, this could be set to change.

In 2011, the Chinese government signalled a move towards a greener agenda by announcing its intention to introduce emissions trading systems, energy efficiency measures and green taxes, as well as initiatives to improve the poor air quality, which is notoriously bad in areas such as Beijing.

Then, last November, the ruling Chinese Communist party took the dramatic step of making environmental reforms firmly part of its political agenda by including them in leader Hu Jintao’s crucial address to the party congress.  The party leader addresses the Chinese Communist party congress every five years in what is a highly-anticipated political event, and often parts of the speech remain the same from congress to congress. This is the first time that environmental issues have been given their own special section in the address.

According to the Financial Times, in his speech Mr Hu called for greater protection of the environment, taxes to help reduce ecological damage and pollution and a green “revolution in energy production and consumption” to reduce the impact on China’s environment. In recognition of the damage which has already been done to the country’s ecology as a by-product of its rapid industrial growth, the Chinese Communist Party has also amended its constitution to include “ecological progress” as a target.

China watchers believe that there could be a number of reasons behind the move. Some commentators say that a stronger green agenda will help China compete more effectively on the international stage (combating global climate change is virtually impossible without China’s cooperation) while others argue that it is an attempt to quell civil unrest which has broken out over damage to the country’s environment.

As the country seeks to clean up its environmental act, there may be further business opportunities for Welsh companies. In fact, China could learn much from Wales’s approach to the environment. Arguably, Wales is one of the most progressive countries in the world in terms of its green agenda. Through its sustainable development bill, due for implementation this year, Wales will become the world’s first nation to make it a legal requirement for public bodies to consider social and environment issues when making decisions. In addition, the country has set targets to cut emissions by 3% a year – 40% by 2020 – while it is also a market leader in renewable energy.

Wales already has strong trading ties with China: Welsh trade with the country was £168m last year. Indeed, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, visited the First Minister in Cardiff earlier this month ahead of the Welsh Government’s latest trade mission to Chongqing next month.

Of course, gaining a foothold in China’s markets isn’t easy for many Western companies, and it is usually necessary to find a reliable local partner to work with. However, it looks likely that with China’s growing green agenda, Welsh companies operating in the environmental sector could see business opportunities opening up there in the near future.

TonyV3112 / Photo