Chinese supply chains in focus at Rio

Xu Nan, managing editor in chinadialogue‘s Beijing office.

As the workshop of the world, China’s manufacturing industry has to be part of any global environmental discussion: what burdens is it placing on the environment? How serious are these? What are the major challenges to cleaning this sector up – technology? Finance? Incentive structures? And what are the implications of “greener” Chinese supply chains for the wider world?

On June 17, in the lead up to the Rio+20, chinadialogue invited environmentalist Ma Jun, Goldman Prize winner and founder of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), to discuss these questions in a panel session in Rio de Janeiro. The event was part of the Fair Ideas series of seminars, organised by UK-based NGO International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Ma Jun pointed out that the cost of economic growth – environmental deterioration – has already produced alarming results in China. Rather than more technology, capital and law, China needs motivation, he said. Years of experience show that markets only really change when consumer pressures force them to. NGO efforts to push corporations to improve management and to urge the government to boost transparency, play a complementary role in promoting green choice within society, he added.

John Wilkinson, professor at the Graduate Centre for Agricultural Development at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro stressed the global nature of the issue. Brazil, for example, another developing country, exports raw materials to China and imports manufactured goods, and the interdependency of this trade relationship deepens every day. China’s manufacturing industry is extending its reach into all corners of the world, as an inevitable result of globalisation and, naturally, the discussion is becoming one about global supply chains.

Jonathan Watts, chair of the forum and environment reporter at The Guardian (formerly in China), suggested that international NGOs, including IIED, help find ways to apply Ma’s working methods to global supply chains.

This article is translated and published here as part of our Green Growth project, a collaboration between chinadialogue and The Energy Foundation.

Translated by chinadialogue intern Emily Yung