IN re-launching the Clean Plate campaign in August last year, President Xi Jinping urged all of China to “maintain a sense of crisis about food security”. But efforts to tackle waste are aimed at more than just food, according to analysts at research firm Wood Mackenzie.

“In China today, excess is out, thriftiness is in,” said Wood Mackenzie Asia Pacific vice chair, Gavin Thompson.

“China’s war on waste is a part of a far broader effort to re-structure and re-purpose its entire economy, including energy.”

This has far-reaching implications for shipping of commodities and freight with major trading partners such as Australia.

China’s highly energy-intensive economy is not only the world’s largest emitter of carbon and dependent on others for many of its natural resources, but is also burdened with over-capacity, inefficiency and waste.

If China’s announcement of a goal of carbon neutrality by 2060 signalled the intent to transform both the economy and how China produces, transports and consumes energy, the recently released 14th five-year plan provided details on how this might be achieved.

“China is now intent on reducing its reliance on carbon-intensive industries and moving instead towards services, technology and innovation,” Mr Thompson said.

“Underpinning this is a massive shift to cleaner energy. The China of the future intends to be green, efficient and circular.

“Efforts towards decarbonisation are well underway. A decade of government and private-sector investment has put China well ahead in virtually all clean energy supply chains and technologies,” he said.

Investment in renewables is slowly reducing dependence on coal, while China dominates the supply and processing of most of the raw materials needed for batteries and other zero-carbon technologies. Three-quarters of global lithium-ion battery production, half of the world’s electric vehicles and almost 70% of all solar panels are made in China.

Mr Thompson says through “aggressive decarbonisation”, China can not only reduce its dependence on the rest of the world for natural resources, it could also be the dominant player in the supply chains and technologies the entire world needs to tackle climate change. 

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“This poses a challenge for western governments. If green revolutions are being sold on the promise of jobs, how does this stack up with low carbon supply chains already dominated by China?” he asked.

Right now, China is clearly dominant in areas such as battery raw materials supply and manufacturing, and the construction of wind and solar generation capacity. But these are the technologies of today, according to Wood Mackenzie.

“Much of what the world will need to achieve carbon neutrality is not yet well understood and is far from commercial,” Mr Thompson said.

“Currently, no country leads in carbon capture or green hydrogen.

“Emerging technologies such as next-generation electrofuels, polymeric energy storage and cobalt-free, high-energy-density batteries could yet transform the clean-energy landscape,” he said.

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