Addressing Water Challenges in China
China and the United States have made significant progress in their bilateral cooperation on climate and energy, as evidenced by the landmark announcement — the China-US Joint Statement on Climate Change — made by President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama late last year.
How do we, in the private sector, contribute to achieving this commendable pledge? By engaging in a constructive exchange of best practices at the working level. Last April, US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz led a trade mission of representatives from 24 US companies looking to launch or increase their business operations in China for sustainable products and services, such as clean air and water technologies, smart buildings, green data centers, energy efficient technologies, waste treatment technologies, smart grid and green transportation. The group visited Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The timing couldn’t be better, particularly for the water sector. Just before the trade mission, China’s National Development and Reform Commission announced the opening of water markets for foreign investors, expanding financing options for major projects. This is just one example of how China is taking proactive, concrete measures to address water challenges.
Home to the largest population on the planet and just seven percent of the world’s fresh water, China is well positioned to play a key role in identifying solutions that will not only benefit local interests and needs, but may also have a significant impact on the world. The government has demonstrated a keen interest in tackling the challenges that come with rapid growth. For more than 20 years, the country has led the world in investing in infrastructure at an annual average rate of 8.5 percent of its overall GDP. The International Monetary Fund predicts that China will continue to spend a remarkable 9 percent of its GDP on infrastructure in the coming years.
Local media reports that the Chinese government has earmarked 1.7 trillion yuan (US $330 billion) to address water challenges in China with 172 water conservation programs. These funds will be directed toward technologies such as wastewater treatment, recycling and membrane technology, as well as upgrading existing water infrastructure. Furthermore, the Ministry of Water Resources confirmed that it will increase investments in water conservation projects, surpassing the 488 billion yuan (US $75 billion) invested in 2014.
Exchanges such as the US China trade mission will help to identify the best technologies and solutions for these new investments. Chinese water industry experts agree that the use of advanced technologies will help solve the current water issues.
The cooperation between the public and private sectors demonstrated during this mission is a critical component to ensuring the successful implementation of new solutions and initiatives. A survey of water industry experts indicates that they believe the government should enact policies and broadly manage and support the development of the industry. The private sector, including international companies, should provide advanced technology, funding and expertise.
China is focusing more attention on solving water issues, and hands-on exchange of expertise and innovative ideas through last month’s trade missions has positive effects on solving those problems. Global water security will depend on collaboration, innovation and investment. We must recognize these challenges as opportunities to lead and establish best practices to ensure clean and plentiful water in the decades to come.
Shuping Lu is the president of Xylem China. Xylem is a global water technology leader dedicated to solving the world’s most complex water challenges.
In 2014, Xylem conducted a survey Value of Water Index survey in partnership with China Water Net to gauge awareness, level of concern and understanding of issues pertaining to water and water infrastructure in China.
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