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The high cost of low carbon

Many people in China want to live more environmentally friendly lifestyles. But reducing carbon footprints can be expensive, writes Huo Weiya, and support for the effort is lacking.

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One of my chinadialogue colleagues in Beijing recently bought a Philips energy-saving light bulb to replace a standard one. He was happy with his choice. It may have cost 30 yuan (just under US$4.50) – ten times the price of a filament bulb -- but he wanted to save energy as part of his low-carbon lifestyle. And according to the retailer, he would save, in the long run, much more than the 30 yuan he was spending.

Yet only one month later, his expensive light bulb blew, before he had saved even a fraction of the purchase price. Will he stick to his high-cost, low-carbon, lifestyle?

China’s environmental organisations have started to advocate low-carbon lifestyles and the reduction of carbon footprints to help combat climate change. But they have overlooked one fact: in China, low-carbon living comes at a high cost.

It means buying energy-saving bulbs and appliances, and environmentally friendly building materials and daily goods. Cost can no longer be the sole criterion for purchases. An energy-saving and environmentally friendly product is more expensive than a standard alternative – whether it’s a simple light bulb or the house it illuminates. For average consumers, even buying an ordinary home is a huge burden. How can we persuade ordinary people to opt for an energy-saving residence? This is not a trend they can afford to follow; perhaps this fashion is only for the rich.

Most consumers today do not cause huge carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Their responsibility lies not in choosing a low-carbon lifestyle today, but in avoiding a high-carbon life in the future. The principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” – a cornerstone of sustainable development -- can be applied here as well.

In China, low-carbon living still is hampered by a lack of social infrastructure. Even if your salary allows you to make that choice, nobody is there to help you implement it.

Consider energy-saving homes. You need to find out whether or not the developer has used natural materials wherever possible; how effective the insulation is; and what the green credentials of installed equipment are. You can read up a little, but you’ll still be lucky to avoid being baffled by the developers’ marketing. Many so-called energy-saving buildings are nothing of the sort, and some are even more energy-hungry than the average home – as Li Taige warned in his article “Energy-efficient buildings? Not always”, on
chinadialogue last August.

And if you buy one of those energy-saving homes, you’ll need to learn about environmentally friendly decoration. Green building materials are more expensive, and companies may substitute cheaper alternatives and skim off the extra profit. You’ll need to choose insulating flooring, windows that make full use of sunlight, water-saving toilets, environmentally friendly paint, and more – and this is hardly your area of expertise, is it?

And then, it’s time to pick up some energy-efficient appliances. In 2005, China implemented a system of energy-efficiency labelling. As of March 1, twenty-one categories of product -- including electric induction cookers and water heaters -- will be required to carry those labels. So this, at least, will simplify the decision-making progress – or at least it will seem to. You may well find that your new washing machine, despite its label, does not actually save any electricity. There is no effective oversight of the labelling system, and some manufacturers are taking advantage, making false claims about their products. You may think you are enjoying a low-carbon life, all the while causing high levels of emissions.


With all these problems, choosing a low-carbon life and investing time and money could still lead to you being cheated by the market. Low-carbon lifestyles now, like the first generation of biofuels, are simply the transfer – or even increase -- of carbon emissions, not their reduction.

My colleague says he will buy energy-saving bulbs again. Very good, but that’s just a 30-yuan bulb. What will he do when it comes to a one-million-yuan home?
 

Is leading a low-carbon lifestyle too expensive, particularly for ordinary Chinese people? Do you buy environmentally friendly goods and services despite the cost? If not, would you switch to more eco-friendly products and practices if the costs were lower? How important is this lifestyle decision to you?

Huo Weiya is operations and development manager for chinadialogue in Beijing and former editor-in-chief of Environmental Culture Newsletter, published by China’s Green Student Forum, an environmental NGO established in 1996.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国已经在实行低碳生活了

与北美人均水平相比,中国已经算是低碳经济了。城市碳排放程度较高,而占中国总人口80%的人们居住的农村,碳排放量就要小得多。如果中国没有政府制定的保护消费者的产品规定,那么找到一件绿色产品根本就是不可能的事情。你如何能够辨别产品真伪?去年夏天我在陕西省的一个偏远农村(1000人)发现了人们普遍使用节能灯。店家告诉我,即使比普通灯泡贵10倍,但村民发现节能灯是比较省钱的。在加拿大我买一只通用生产的节能灯需要花10加元,约合70元人民币,可以使用14000小时。按照每天照明8小时、一年365天来计算,这个灯可以用5年左右,因此我把买灯的发票保存下来。2年以后这个灯就坏掉了,我非常生气就给通用打电话告诉他们本来能用5年的灯才2年就坏掉了。他们给我寄了优惠券让我再免费领取一个新的。我估计这在中国是无法实现的。也许将来也有可能实现。Don Tai
Http://dontai.com/wp/

China already leads a low carbon lifestyle

Compared to North America on a per person basis, China already leads a low carbon lifestyle. While carbon emissions in the cities are higher, in the countryside, where 80% of Chinese people live, emissions are much lower. With China's near complete lack of government regulated product protection for consumers, finding green products will be impossible. How can you tell the genuine from the fake? Marketing from the truth?

This summer I found compact fluorescent bulbs in a remote farming village (1,000 people) in Shanxi Province, the heart of coal country. The shopkeeper said even though the bulbs were 10 times more expensive, farmers bought them because in the end they saved money.

Here in Canada I too bought a GE compact fluorescent bulb, rated at 14,000 hours for $10CAD, 70RMB. At 8 hrs of usage per day, 365 days a year, I expected the bulb to last around 5 years, so I kept the sales receipt. After 2 years of use the bulb burned out. I was mad, I called GE and explained that their 5 year bulb burned out in 2 years. They mailed me a coupon so I could purchase a new GE bulb free of charge. I doubt you could do that in China. Maybe in the future?

Don Tai http://dontai.com/wp/

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

岂能因噎废食?

这篇文章的出发点是好的,指出了中国服务市场和行政制度还有所欠缺的情况下,如果消费者不具备一定的专业知识很有可能会被不良开发商和厂家的花招迷惑,即使付出了高成本也得不到低碳的效果。但这是否就是说消费者应该坐等政府加强监管,商家良心发现,自己就可以以此为借口名正言顺的继续高碳排放的生活了吗?

首先,低碳选择本来就是相对来说高成本的,任何关于低碳选择的经济分析都会承认选择低碳生活和发展会在短期提高成本,否则你以为世界各国都是为了什么在减排的责任上争论不休?如果既能省钱又能环保,那还需要我们来大力提倡?但是这个高成本是体现在短期内的经济成本,当长期能源节约与环境保护的考虑在内后,低碳选择的最终成本都是低于现在大部分的非低碳选择的。但人们不容易意识到或者不愿意去考虑长期的成本,很难自动作出符合长期成本的最优选择,这也正是环保组织和像中外对话这样的环境网站不懈努力的最重要原因之一。

其次,即使退一步说,即使某些低碳选择将来的成本可能更高。但鉴于气候变化影响可能对人类生活造成的巨大影响,根据环境灾害的预防原则(The Precautionary Principle),也应该选择低碳发展以尽量避免和减缓气候变化的发生。而这个选择,不仅是政府和企业的责任,也同样是消费者和公民的责任,是对地球与我们的后代所肩负的义务。

第三,政府的确还有很多要完善的地方,来让消费者的低碳选择更容易,更放心,更负担得起。这包括建立更完善的低碳服务产业,更严格的能效标识体系,更完善的监督机制和更多的激励措施。不良企业和开发商的花招也需要被戳穿,这不仅需要政府努力,也有待于行政执行和法律体系的完善,更同样需要普通消费者的监督。没有消费者对打着低碳口号的欺诈行为的勇敢揭发和坚决维权,不良企业就不会被取缔,注重品质的竞争机制就不能形成。反过来,如果消费者只以价格为标杆,选择低碳产品时只管低价而忽略了生产商的信誉和品质,是否就可以指着政府和企业责骂而自己一点责任都没有呢?

第四,选择低碳生活,在中国反而尤其的不昂贵。因为中国有生产能力已较低的成本生产质量不错的低碳产品,如果你不是选择了那些低劣厂商的产品的话。还是以你的节能灯为例,由于欧洲的贸易保护,欧洲的节能灯单价是中国的两到三倍,同时中国2008年开始实施的《高效照明产品推广财政补贴资金管理暂行办法》对居民购买节能灯给予了50%的补贴。太阳能热水器的价格更是欧洲市场的五分之一甚至更低。新能源汽车的购置税减免和高达数万元的价格补贴更是欧洲看不到的。虽然还远未足够,但中国政府已经做了不少,但如果没有消费者的支持,中国的低碳产业要想快速发展,仍然只是一条腿跑步。我们一直在赞扬日本韩国居民对本土产业的支持,这不是同样是我们自己的机会吗?

Are we going to starve ourselves out of fear of choking?

This essay's opening points are good, pointing out that China's service market and administrative system are still coming up somewhat short. If consumers do not have a certain specialized knowledge, then it is very possible that they will be duped by undesirable developers and manufacturers. Even when paying high production costs, they still won't reach the low-carbon result. But is this saying consumers should just sit and wait for the government to increase its supervision and for businesses to be stung by their conscience, and use this as an excuse to continue our high-carbon-emission lives?

First, choosing low carbon will naturally cost a bit more. Any economic analysis of going low-carbon will recognize that choosing a low-carbon life and low-carbon development will, in the short term, increase production costs. Why else do you think the whole world won’t stop arguing about who should be responsible for reducing emissions? If we were able to both save money and protect the environment, would we still need to be so forceful in promoting the low-carbon life?
But this high production cost only embodies the short-term economic costs, because in the long term we can save energy and protect the environment. Choosing low-carbon will end up having a final production cost lower than the current non-low-carbon choice. But people don't easily realize or do not consider the long-term costs. It’s really hard to have the self-motivation needed to keep in line with the optimal choice for long term costs. This is also one of the most important reasons that environmental protection groups and environmental websites like China Dialogue are ceaselessly working for.

Second, to put it in the least way,even if some low-carbon alternatives actually will cost more, the influence of climate change on human life might be really huge. According to the precautionary principle of environmental disaster, we should still choose low-carbon development so that we can, as much as possible, slow down and even prevent climate change from happening. This choice is not only the responsibility of government and industry, but it is also the responsibility of consumers and the citizenry. This burden is our obligation to the world and to the future generations.

Third, the government does still have a lot of areas to perfect,which could make it easier, more relaxing, and less of a burden for consumers choosing low-carbon lives. This includes establishing a more complete low-carbon service industry, a more rigorous energy efficiency label system, more complete inspections of mechanisms, and more incentive measures. Harmful enterprises and businesses that trick people also need to be exposed. This not only needs the hard work of the government, but also needs the complete implementation of administration and law-making. And even more than that, regular consumers need to supervise things. If there are no consumers who will bravely reveal the low-carbon cheaters and firmly defend our rights, then the harmful enterprises won’t be suppressed, and competition that pays attention to quality won’t shaped.Conversely, if consumers only survey the price, then choosing low-carbon products based solely on low prices will cause the consumers to ignore the businesses’ trustworthiness and their products’ quality. While we are able to point at the government and enterprises and scold them, aren’t we ourselves somewhat responsible too?

Fourth, choosing a low-carbon life in China is, on the contrary, particularly inexpensive. Because of China’s manufacturing ability, it should already be able to produce good-quality, low-cost, low-carbon products, if you don’t choose inferior companies’ products. With your energy-saving bulb example, because of Europe’s trade protections, the price of an energy-saving bulb in Europe is two-to-three times than that of China. At the same time, in 2008, China started to implement its “Provisional Measures for the Administration of Subsidizing and Popularizing Efficient Lighting Products,” which gives a 50% subsidy to people buying energy-saving bulbs. Solar-powered water heaters cost just one-fifth, or perhaps even less, of the price in a European market. For purchasing new-energy cars, tax cuts and subsidies worth tens of thousands of Chinese Yuan are better than anything you would see in Europe. Although still far from being enough, the Chinese government has already done a lot. But if they don’t have the backing of consumers, then when China’s low-carbon industries try to develop quickly, it will be like running with only one leg. We always praise the Japanese and Koreans for supporting their own national industries. Isn’t this our opportunity to do the same?
(Translated by Jacob Fromer)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

岂能因噎废食 - 续

第五,我不同意“对于现阶段碳排放不多的普通消费者,责任不是选择低碳生活,而是预防将来的高碳生活”。很多选择(如汽车,住房),不仅影响今天,更影响明天,后天和数十年后的未来。碳锁定效应(Carbon Lock-in)对落后的高耗能投资适用,对生活方式和习惯的形成同样适用。难道要非要先学会美国的生活方式才能再学会低碳生活?每个人都可以在力所能及的范围内减少碳排放。低碳是个相对概念,不是绝对概念。

最后,我建议你的那位朋友不要急着先去再买一个节能灯。既然是飞利浦这样的大厂商生产的,一个月就坏的节能灯应该可以找他们替换,退货,甚至索赔。如果他们连这些服务都没有,那就配不上他们的品牌。消费者维权不是只针对滥竽充数的小工厂,知名外企也应该一视同仁,或者,他们应该更加起到行业标杆的带头作用!

王韬 (Tao Wang)
英国廷德尔气候变化研究中心 (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research)

How can we not eat for fear of choking-continued

The fifth,I don't agree that "for average consumers, their responsibility lies not in choosing a low-carbon lifestyle today, but in avoiding a high-carbon life in the future." Many choices(like cars and housing),have affected not only today,but also tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and even a few decades later. Carbon Lock-in can be applied to energy-guzzling investments,as well as lifestyle and habit cultivation. Could it be said that one can never learn low-carbon lifestyle well until he first learns the American lifestyle? Actually ,everyone can reduce the carbon emission within his or her ability. Low-carbon is a relative concept, not an absolute one.

Finally,I think that your friend should wait before getting another energy-saving light bulb. Since its manufacturer is a big one like Philips,with life-expectancy less than one month, he should get a replacement, return of goods, or even compensation. If they can't provide such service,that's to say,they didn't live up to their brand. Consumer rights aim at not only small factories below average,but also those well-known foreign enterprises. In other words, they need to set a good example in their own field. -- Tao Wang,of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
(translated by diaoshuhuan)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

热情下降

这么说来,人们出于环保节能的考虑而购买的带有“节能”标识的家电似乎并不那么可信,这是否会打击普通大众实践环保生活的热情呢?尤其是那些受教育程度不高的人.本来,面对厂家的七嘴八舌,他们已经很是困惑了。

Passion is fading

So in other words this means that those household electrical appliances which people buy just because they want to be environmentally friendly and to save energy are not that reliable, although they are labelled as "energy saving". Wont this come as a big blow and crush the public's enthusiasm for carrying out actions of environmental protection, especially for those who are less educated. When surrounded with manufacturers' abundant advertisements, they are already so perplexed.(Translated by diaoshuhuan)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

你说消费者有什么责任

这篇文章基本上来说还是正确的,尤其是这个论点“在中国,低碳生活还缺乏社会服务基础”。其实在其他国家,要解决气候变化的问题,最根本的同样是要解决“社会服务基础”,或者换句话来说,怎样可以让高碳排放付出应有的代价,从而支付低碳转型的成本。

人是市场的动物。中国人不会因为买到的节能灯比欧洲便宜就去买。市场的另一个名字是博弈。个人不会因为未来20年自己的住房要被水淹没而多掏钱去买节能灯给别人搭便车。所以说自愿碳排放交易不能拯救气候,环保机构只呼吁老百姓降低碳排放也不能。

对于中国的特殊问题,是怎么在现有的政治框架下,寻求民间表达和公众参与的渠道,推进“社会基础服务”的转型。向公众传递的信息,不应该停留在换灯或者拒绝一次性筷子的层面上,也不应该停留在为梦想中的“低碳生活”做辩护的层面上。有能力的机构,应该寻求信息和决策渠道的透明化,把碳审计、碳价格、和碳成本这些程序性的知识与公众的常识结合在一起,真正遵循公平和公开的理念,才能在一个发展中国家有所作为。

虽然一直在说,遏制全球气候变化是所有人的责任,但在明确各自的责任之前,这句话是一句空话。

--马利超 [email protected]

What kind of responsibility do consumers have

In general, this article is correct, especially its argument that "low-carbon living in China is still hampered by a lack of social infrastructure". Actually, in other countries, the fundamental solution to combating climate change issues is to work on the social infrastructure at the same time. That is to say, how to make the high-carbon emission costs the deserved price, and offset the cost of low-carbon transformation. People are governed by market forces. The Chinese will not buy energy-saving light bulbs just because they are cheaper than that of Europe. The market has another name -- game playing. A man will not purchase more expensive energy-saving light bulbs because his house may be flooded in twenty years time. This means that the climate cannot be saved by voluntary carbon emission transaction, or by environmental originations' calls for the public to lower their carbon emissions. The problem specific to China, is how to find methods for people to express themselves and for the public to participate, and promote the transformation of the social infrastructure. The information passed on to the public should not stop at the level of changing the kind of lightbulb they use or rejecting disposable chopsticks, nor arguing about a superficial dreams of low-carbon living. Capable institutions should look for transparent information and decision-making channels, and combine the procedural knowledge of carbon audit, carbon price, and carbon cost, with the public‘s common knowledge. Only through abiding by the the concepts of fairness and openness will it be possible to make a difference to developing countries. Dealing with global climate change is everyone’s duty, but until we have our duties made clear, this is nothing but empty words.
--Ma Lichao [email protected]
(Translated by Tian Liang)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复评论3

在我读这些评论的过程中,我猜想对方是个环保主义者,并且带有点理想色彩。尤其从最后提到让他的朋友为那提前坏掉了的灯泡去索要赔偿这一点来看。我好奇他知道要多少成本吗(时间、精力和金钱),先不管到底那个人能否成功。如果你把那张超市的发票弄丢了,他们就不会处理你的投诉。而又有多少人会保留那些发票呢?
translated by diaoshuhuan

回复评论3

While reading the comments, I can guess this commentator is an environmentalist, and a little bit of an idealist. Especially from the last part which suggests that his friend to ask for refund for that short-lived bulb. Does he know the cost (time, energy and money) involved, not to mention whether that friend will succeed or not. If you lost the invoice from the super-market, they will not deal with your claim. Who will keep the invoice for a bulb???

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

为什么不?

6号评论所提出的问题,我认为1号评论已经给出了答案。如果通用公司能为一个用了两年就坏掉的节能灯向消费者作出赔付, 那么菲力蒲为什么不能赔偿中国消费者购买的一个月就坏掉的灯?这反映了为什么消费者需要维护自己的权益,争取更优质的产品。 当然这一过程在中国可能没有在当今的美国那么顺利, 但是我们应该争取进步,而不是把现状看作是天经地义。 这是政府,企业和消费者要共同承担的责任----在责怪别人的同时,也不要逃避自己的责任。Tao Wang (xiulu翻译)

Why not?

To the question raised by comment 6, I think your answer is already there in comment 1. If GE could refund a energy saving bulb for a consumer after 2 years, why can't we have it by Philips for a Chinese consumer after one month? This reflects the exact reason why consumers themselves need to guard their own rights and push for higher quality products. Of course it may not be as smooth as what happened in the US now, but we should fight for improvement rather than take it as given. This is shared responsibility between government, corporate and consumers - don't escape your own while blaming the others.

Tao Wang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复评论5

我非常同意你关于中国需要推进“社会基础服务”的看法。但我想你还是着重于讨论政府和其他机构应该做什么,怎么做。这都很正确。但是消费者就不应该参与改革其中吗?
市场的确意味着博弈,这就是为什么我们需要各种政策减少外部性或搭便车的行为。但不可否认的是很多人,尤其是在欧洲,有动力去自觉去做自己力所能及的环保行为,而不太去计较是否让别人搭了便车。因为社会责任感的培养需要一些人先做自己的那一份,同时影响其他人的选择,而不是一二三大家齐步走。而道德水准不应该完全,虽然在很小程度上会,和个人收入水平挂钩。在这一点上,我们需要国际社会重视发展中国家人民的发展需求,但不能以此为借口逃避自己应该承担的责任。
节能灯不是让别人搭便车,也同样节省你自己的电费单。同样节能灯和一次性筷子也绝不是值得忽视的小事。勿以恶小而为之,勿以善小而不为,不用光顾着建空中楼阁去了。

顺便说一句,谢谢评论6作者对我的赞扬。我很高兴能成为有理想主义色彩的环保主义者。

王韬

A Reply to Comment 5

I very much agree with your belief that China needs to advance "social infrastructure." But I think you are still putting emphasis on discussing what the government and other institutions should do, and how they should do it. This is all correct. But shouldn't the consumer also participate in reformation? This then implies that the market is like a game, this is why we need to demand various kinds of exportation policies, or perhaps adopt a hitchhiker's behavior. But the undeniable fact is there actually are a lot of people, especially in Europe, who have both the momentum to follow their personal beliefs and the strength to actually reach "huanbao," or "environmental protection" behaviors, but this isn't really an argument for others to hitchhike. Because in order to cultivate society's sense of responsibility, some people are required to do their own thing first, while simultaneously influencing other people's choices, instead of the "one, two, three, everybody keep in step" kind of standpoint. The ethical standard should not be a hundred percent - although not a bit of it actually will be - and should be coupled with individual income level. At this point, we need the international community to pay attention to the demands of people in developing countries, but we cannot use this as an excuse to evade our own responsibilities. The energy saving light bulb won't help people hitchhike, but it does save your utility bill. We must do good rather than evil, no matter the scale, we don't need give rise to building castles in the sky. By the way, thanks to the author of comment 6, to whom I give praise. I was glad to take on the idealistic character of an environmentalist.
Wang Tao

(Translated by Braden Latham-Jones.)

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匿名 | Anonymous

晕,我晕!

我晕,低碳生活真得是这样像作者说的么。真正的低碳生活其实人类生活习惯和生产方式的改变。对于个人和家庭来说,低碳生活并不需要像作者说得那样哦。
节电:随手关灯、能采用自然光就用自然光;可以手洗衣服,不用动不动就用空调;
节水:用脸盆洗脸洗手,然后可以拖地,再冲厕;
出门最好坐公交或者骑自行车、步行。
其实,只要做到两个字“不懒”,你就可是在过着低碳的生活了。
哈哈。难道不是么?

Confused, I'm confused!

I'm confused, is living a low-carbon life really like the author says? A true low-carbon lifestyle is actually a habit of the human race, and so is coming up with ways to change and adjust. When it comes to both the individual and the family, a low-carbon lifestyle isn't really the way the author says it is. To save electricity: Turn off the lights when you leave, or just use natural sunlight if you need light; you can hand wash your clothes, don't always use your air-conditioner or heater; To save water: Use a bucket to wash your face and hands, then you can use the bucket to rinse out the toilets and bathroom; the best thing to do when you go out is to use public transportation or ride a bike, or even walk on foot. Actually, all you need to do is live by three words, "don't be lazy," then you can receive a low-carbon lifestyle. Haha. Am I wrong?
(Translated by Braden Latham-Jones.)

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匿名 | Anonymous

低碳责任应该得到分担

低碳生活是一种责任,我也很同意作者的观点,对于现在诸如“社会基础服务”没有健全的前提之下,公民的个人低碳行为是要付出高成本的,而且有时候在简单的把“低碳、节能”设备拼凑在一起的时候,可能还会适得其反,像节能冰箱。

但是对于更高的一个层次,公司、社会团体、政府等来说低碳,就是应该考虑,也是必须考虑的一个方面了。低碳,这两个字背后需要的科技、政策、财力,就决定了这必须是一个自上而下的过程。

Low-carbon responsibity should be shared

Low-carbon living is a kind of duty, but I agree with the author's position that leading a low-carbon life is expensive before the social infrustruction has been improved. Sometimes simply mixing the properties "low-carbon" and "energy-saving" when it comes to equipment can lead to the opposite of the desired affect, such as in the case of the energy-saving fridge.

From a higher level, enterprises, social groups and government bodies should be counted on to support the low-carbon issue. Low-carbon is a top-down process, which should be buttressed by science and technology, policy and capital.
(Translated by Tian Liang)