As a political decision-maker, the Chinese Minister of Natural Resources, Lu Hao, is at the center of a great transformation of today’s China.
Former Governor of Heilongjiang from 2013 to 2018, he was also First Secretary of the Communist Youth League and later vice-mayor of Beijing.
He is also a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), although he was born only in 1967, in Shanghai or probably in Xi’an.
The effective political systems favor and foster the careers of the best young people.
As President Xi Jinping has often pointed out, this is the right time for a comprehensive and in-depth ecological analysis of Chinese development.
Once the economic development of a country that initially hosted the “second processing activities” of global economy was over, China is now getting ready to be a large global economy, an advanced economy having no obligations towards “old” technologies and markets – hence also fully ecological.
Since the 18th CPC Congress, President Xi Jinping has been vigorously supporting the idea of a fully Chinese “ecological civilization” and certainly the choice of Lu Hao as Minister of Natural Resources goes in this direction.
As both President Xi and Minister Lu Hao underline, now also soil erosion has become a very severe phenomenon in China.
Currently, the annual soil erosion of both agricultural and non-agricultural land totals approximately 5 billion tons.
The area currently down to agriculture in China is worth about a third of the available land.
The desertification area is now equal to 2,622,000 square kilometers, i.e., 27.3% of all the land surface available.
Despite the many efforts made to reverse this trend – and not only recently –China is currently the country with the lowest per capita share of forests in the world.
Pollution is still heavy, especially in the case of water, but President Xi – and Minister Lu Hao – have quickly got to work.
President Xi Jinping stated: “Clean waters and green mountains are as valuable as mountains of gold and silver.”
The President not only wants a high GDP, but above all a strong and stable “green” GDP.
The First World markets pollute the Second and, above all, the Third World – and today China is not Third World for anyone.
Being subject to pollution is like being subject to foreign powers.
Hence, President Xi Jinping’s fundamental idea is that protecting the environment and increasing productivity are mutually reinforcing goals.
Just like Minister Lu Hao, President Xi Jinping believes that there is a scientific and rational connection between environmental protection and economic development and that the purpose of the CPC action is to enhance the people’s quality of life and their happiness index.
Hence, President Xi Jinping’s fundamental idea is to strictly follow the scientific and technological criteria, by increasing the use of natural resources and – precisely for this reason – also developing the blue economy, while respecting the objective laws of nature and, hence, also the laws of socialist and rational economic development.
At the 18th CPC Congress, President Xi Jinping – and certainly also Minister Lu Hao – spoke of building a “beautiful China.”
As written in the documents of the 18th CPC Congress, “To meet the people’s desire for a better life is our mission.” Hence, President Xi Jinping and Minister Lu Hao maintain that “building an ecological society and civilization, which is connected to the people’s well-being, is our goal and the true future for the Chinese nation.”
President Xi Jinping’s policy line is to “first protect, then scientifically demarcate the use and protection of nature, and later adhere to the red line of environmental and ecological protection.”
Here the primary concept is “protection first.”
The old industrialist and productivist criterion, whereby “merely keeping pollution under control” is enough, is now meaningless.
Therefore, whoever is in charge of the area where pollution has occurred must be considered – to all intents and purposes – liable both legally and practically.
We know that every year, at least eight million tons of plastic are thrown into the oceans, and over half of this quantity comes from five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
This problem can be slowly solved with better collection, wider information and what President Xi Jinping calls “ecological civilization.”
Furthermore, as early as 2017, China has begun its “action against air pollution,” with the closure of over 150 coal-fired steel factories to reduce particulate matter in the air by at least 15% a year.
Again as of 2017, China has already achieved the 2020 target for the use of solar energy, with the even more ambitious goal of soon reaching the production level of 213 GW, five times higher than the current US annual production.
Considering the current technology data, it is like covering – only with solar panels – a surface larger than the Greater London area, namely 1,500 square kilometers.
Furthermore, also thanks to Minister Lu Hao’s action, in 2019, China rose from the 41st to the 33rd place in the world list of nations that are actively involved in climate change.
A great leap forward, although the greenhouse gas emissions increased in China both in 2017 and in 2019.
China, however, can currently meet the Paris Agreement criteria by stopping its greenhouse gas emissions within 2030, but only by increasing its renewable energy production by 20% and by using greater nuclear energy sources – a policy of which little is still said in the silly West.
Hence tripling the share of non-fossil fuels by the end of 2030 and establish a full market for Chinese emission trading.
If – as is very likely thanks to President Xi Jinping and Minister Lu Hao – China manages to do so, the global project to reduce the global temperature increase to “much less” than two degrees Celsius will be successful.
China is therefore fundamental for the ecology of the whole planet.
Moreover, China plans to increase the area of forests absorbing carbon dioxide by 45,000 square kilometers and it is slowly succeeding in reaching this goal, also thanks to the organization of natural parks, considering that China currently has over 12,000 perfectly organized natural parks and reserves.
There is a public health problem adding to the challenges outlined so far.
In China, about 2.8 million children – mainly newborn babies – die due to pollution-related problems.
If we do not want to change the balance between generations – and certainly President Xi Jinping and Minister Lu Hao are very careful not to do so – the pollution issue becomes pivotal.
Just think about the retirement, employment, and demographic transition between generations, with a burden of newborn deaths equal to 2.8 million a year.
The Chinese Climate and Ecological Policy System introduced in 2017, which Minister Lu Hao is greatly expanding, also provides for the careful monitoring of over 1,700 energy-producing companies and for the further final control of over three billion tons of greenhouse gases.
The size of China is still an outstanding issue and has led the country to have – in spite of everything – as many as 10 billion tons of CO2 released into the environment – about a quarter of the world total amount. However, they are less than 23% compared to the Chinese CO2 production in the previous year.
As to water pollution, the state will spend as much as 30 billion for “cleaning” and purifying springs and water flows.
China will also improve its basic price system, with a view to fostering environmental protection and rural areas – a policy for the total cleaning of urban water and major springs, organized by Minister Lu Hao and supported by President Xi Jinping.
The first goal is to purify urban wastewater, the major source of stable pollution of springs. Then China plans to “ecologize” the Yangtze River and Lake Bohai, two other water flows that affect China’s whole rural and urban water system.
The project, however, will be completed and the cleaning of the big rivers and major water basins and reservoirs will go ahead.
There is a project to reduce the use of industrial water by 23% within 2020, when the first large national share of renewable energy will be massively used in China.
The law on the “prevention of soil and water pollution” entered into force on January 1, 2019, but it also provides for the census-taking of all Chinese land – to be carried out every ten years – as well as the establishment of monitoring stations everywhere – with data that can be spread at every level – and also the checking of toxic and noxious substances in soils and waters, with data that must become public – at least partially. It finally provides for the creation of funds for cleaning land and water, which every local and regional authority must envisage in the budget.
“Rehabilitation systems” for polluting agricultural or industrial companies are planned.
With specific reference to the desalination of seawater for industrial and human use, it should immediately be noted that China is one of the 13 countries with the lowest water availability in the world.
Moreover, most water resources are concentrated in the South, while Northern and Western regions tend to suffer from drought.
As President Xi Jinping and Minister Lu Hao point out, population growth, mass urbanization, climate change, and gradual reduction of water reserves are all conditions that make the water issue crucial for continuing China’s economic development.
In addition to reorganizing national water reserves – as can be seen in projects such as the Diversion of Northern Waters – water is never really sufficient, so the other fundamental issue of President Xi Jinping’s and Minister Lu Hao’s water scheme is desalination and the recycling-purification of wastewater.
Here the real problem is desalination, considering that 43% of the Chinese population lives in the 11 coastal provinces, which anyway account for 13.7% of the Chinese territory.
In coastal areas, however, the water supply is even lower than the national average.
Nevertheless, coastal areas account for over 65% of China’s national GDP.
However, the water resources of China’s coastal areas are only about 28% of the total national ones.
Hence desalination is a solution.
Currently over 150 countries use this system.
Moreover, China’s desalination project has lasted for at least 60 years.
Currently, however, after a series of regional and sectoral attempts, a real desalination industry has developed in the Hebei Province, as early as the first project in Datang Wangtang in 2005.
The specific membrane technology is already well-developed, but also microfiltration is available – with a national production exceeding 10,000 square meters per day for each of the approximately 150 plants, but with additional 71 sea desalination plants, operating at a reduced pace, and with 35% of the total water resources used for people’s personal use.
Only 35% of water resources, however, is used for energy production and for other industrial uses, including paper and metal production.
The desalination plants are mainly located in four regions, namely Zhejiang, Shandong, Liaoning, and Hainan.
The main technologies are Reverse Osmosis (RO) with UF (Ultra Filtration) membranes and Multi-Effect Distillation (MED), which is thermal desalination.
In China, 120 are RO plants and 7 are the largest ones with MED technology.
With regard to soil protection, it has been ascertained that 402 industrial sites and 1,401 agricultural areas record a high concentration of heavy metals.
Thirty-six percent of agricultural areas and 28% of industrial sites are contaminated.
China defined the regulations carefully and made them even stricter in 2016, but the final regulatory framework was designed in August 2018.
As already seen, the criterion used is prevention.
The relevant authorities must therefore evaluate each project ecologically, before its implementation.
The law lays down each party’s responsibility, with a sequence of obligations no one can escape.
However, the real problem in China is the relationship between arable land and urban areas.
New buildings have reduced the area down to agriculture by almost 60% compared to 1990.
A total of 2.47 million hectares – equivalent to the surface of the US State of Vermont – were reclaimed on the basis of the new legislation on the rebalancing between agricultural land and housing areas.
Nevertheless, only 37% of the land reclaimed on the basis of this legislation is reused for agricultural purposes, while 44% remains merely unploughed land and 19% becomes forests.
Moreover, the climate and bio-chemical change of soils is often at the basis of China’s great internal migrations, which are a further structural distortion of an already anomalous – and now stable – concentration of people from internal towards coastal areas.
According to the 2016 data, the Four Modernizations and the subsequent reforms pushed over 200 million migrants to the Chinese coasts.
In the future, however, the real core of the issue for China will be harvesting electric power from the dynamics of ocean wave movements.
Many energy market analysts believe that the market for this type of electricity will increase by 10.25% a year until 2023.
The market is expanding especially in Europe, which was the first continent to develop this technology, but now the idea has spread to the United States, Australia and, above all, China.
Currently, there is a device available for harnessing the power of ocean waves known as “Penguin,” which is moored to the seabed at 50 meters depth. Only 2 meters are visible above the seawater surface.
This 1,600-ton device is around 30 m long.
It is manufactured by a Finnish company.
Devices for producing wave-based energy – with an average capacity of 40 MW – are already available in the Caribbean, Antigua, Bermuda, and Curaçao, through a mechanism that will be operational in late 2019.
Nowadays also the microgrid technology is available, i.e., a mix of energy sources, users and storage systems that, in this case, combines solar sources with those from the ocean wave cycle, as currently happens off the Australian coast.
Today the energy available from waves, and hence from tides, is 8.2 GW for the whole of China. It is a huge amount.
China’s research for this type of technology is currently based on a vertical turbine, developed by the Harbin University, as well as on a horizontal axis turbine, studied by the University of Zhejiang, and on other prototypes.
Hence the potential energy available from the Chinese wave cycle is probably much greater than expected – by over 25% – and this does not regard the technologies currently applied, but the physical potential of wave movements, which can be easily calculated.
As early as the 1970s China has developed this sector, starting from Jangxia (3900 Kw), and later in the regions of Bachimen, Shandong, and Maluan Bay, which are already active only partly.
There have also been attempts – far from useless – to produce energy from the sea heat exchanges.
But what are the structural limits of the Chinese marine renewable energy project?
In general terms, a certain and stable lack of investment in the sector, which enables Western technologies to evolve more rapidly and, above all, more suitably for the future massive consumption of “sea wave-based” energy.
We also need to consider the nature of places on the Chinese coast, with the spreading of typhoons and dangerous situations, and finally the use of oceans for security, desalination or fishing operations.
Still today, a massive spreading of these wave-based energy technologies is needed, as well as a common base between universities, government, local authorities, Party and users to create a strong and stable market for this type of energy.
The Inertial Sea Wave Energy Converter (ISWEC) could be the solution.
It is a device placed inside a float, with an operating criterion based on an inertial system to exploit the sea wave movements to produce energy.
The stability of the float and of the device is ensured by a gyroscopic inertial system, which works when the hull oscillations caused by the movement of waves induce the rotation of the gyroscope platform that is then converted into electricity by the power generator.
The additional aspect is that this system can be fine-tuned and adapted to the changes in sea conditions, which allows to relate the frequency of maximum productivity to the frequency of the incident wave.
Everything is regulated by the spin engine of the gyroscope flywheel and by the real-time data on the area’s weather conditions.
You can also easily secure the system, if special sea conditions or other phenomena occur.
The hull of the float has dimensions of 8 m width, 15 m length, and 4.5 m height, as well as a draft of 4 meters.
The two gyroscopes inside the “buoy,” i.e., the floating positioning system, have an installed electric power of 130 kW, as well as a sensor platform capable of immediately collecting data from the local sensors, to be related to the remote sensor data and the updated weather forecasts.
They can also predict the wave characteristics and finally generate the short-term control signal for all the device operations and drives.
The average annual productivity per each floating position system is 250 MWh, which allows saving 68 tons of CO2 emissions each year, and the structure will obviously occupy a sea area of approximately 150 square meters where fishing will be forbidden.
The device is the result of research carried out by the Polytechnic of Turin, developed by a spinoff and put into operation thanks to an agreement between ENI, CDP, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, Fincantieri and Terna.
As Arthur Rimbaud wrote in one of his poems, “Eternity. It is the sea mingled with the sun.