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A disappointing business

China's greenest entrepreneurs went to Copenhagen amid great fanfare but many were left asking what they actually achieved. Feng Jie reports.

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On returning from the climate conference at Copenhagen, the Vanke Group chairman, Wang Shi, posted a picture of himself pushing an old bike through the streets of the city on his blog. On December 7, the head of the largest property company in China – who climbs an 8,000-metre high mountain every year – had joined a group of Chinese businessmen on a week-long cycling tour around the city, after which he announced the saving of 115 kilograms of carbon.

The trip was quickly branded a mere stunt. But Wang did not seem to mind, saying that, unlike actors, the businessmen were playing themselves and that he hoped to see more, and better, such events in the future. Afterwards, he and his companions made numerous appearances in the Chinese media, talking about Copenhagen and advocating low-carbon ideas.

On December 5, Wang and Feng Lun, chairman of Beijing Vantone Real Estate, were chosen to board the “Climate Express”, a special train from Brussels to Copenhagen organised by the United Nations Environment Program, the International Union of Railways and the World Wildlife Fund. Another group of “green entrepreneurs”, including Marjorie Yang, chairwoman of textile manufacturer Esquel Group; Zhang Yue, chairman of Broad Air-conditioning; Zhang Zaidong, chairman of Beijing Fengshang Real Estate; Song Jun, president of hotel and travel investment firm Beijing Jiuhan Tiancheng and Huang Ming, chairman of Himin Solar Energy Group travelled north from Germany with Lu Zhi, Peking University professor and head of the Shanshui Conservation Centre. They met with Deutsche Bank’s climate finance team in Frankfurt, visited Europe’s solar-power “capital”, Freiburg, and then joined the property group in Copenhagen.

This was the first time Chinese entrepreneurs had attended a UN climate-change conference as observers and a rare high-profile appearance at an international climate-change event. Hopes were high for these enlightened businessmen, both in China and overseas. So what did they actually do?

At a small ceremony to mark the start of the trip held at Beijing’s exclusive Chang’an Club, they said they wanted to put forward the Chinese business world’s stance on climate change, and learn about the business risks and opportunities it will bring. On December 8, they set out this stance at their first appearance in Copenhagen. This took place away from the Bella Center, the main conference facility, at the five-star Radisson hotel, where Chinese premier Wen Jiabao would later stay. Unfortunately very few foreign reporters were present and almost all the attendees were Chinese. So why, those present wondered, couldn’t they just have held the press conference in China?

On December 11, these business leaders were not present at the Business Day event, hosted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

The WBCSD has 200 members, including Shell, Duke Energy, E.ON, BP and Rio Tinto. At Copenhagen the WBCSD advocated a global carbon market and a voluntary industrial code, covering industry, agricultural oil use, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. The ICC, a similar organisation whose members include several major polluters such as Areva, Exxon Mobil and Vattenfall, continued to tell political leaders that business is part of the solution and that economic growth and free trade should be given priority.

The reason the Chinese group was absent was simpler than many thought. The head of the delegation, Wang Shi, had already left Copenhagen due to a prior engagement and the other members, for the most part having poor English and little experience of international events, were not too keen to attend – and so they didn’t.

As head of one of the world’s largest property firms, Wang Shi was undoubtedly the most prominent member of the delegation. In 2007, Vanke started to use reusable steel frames in buildings, rather than the traditional wood. Over the past three years, this method has been applied to 600,000 square metres of building space and, after Copenhagen, Wang set a new target of two million square metres. His ambitions do not stop there, however. Wang wants to lead China’s property sector in making a contribution of more than 10% to China’s 2020 emissions target.

Wang told all of this to the Wall Street Journal and Daily Telegraph newspapers while he was on the Climate Express, to widespread acclaim. And so his early departure, to a certain extent, reduced the voice of Chinese business at Copenhagen. More disappointing was the fact that, although the Business Day was on the agenda provided at the pre-departure press conference and was widely reported in both Chinese and western media, not a single Chinese businessperson was seen at the actual event.

However, the Business Day, which brought together chief executives of giant multinationals, was also lacking attendees from South Africa, Brazil and India. Moreover, those who did attend did not gain much. As Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change told them, the negotiations going on at the Bella Center were inter-governmental and the participants temporarily had to put business to one side.

The delegation was more influenced by events not on the agenda; namely, the civil society activities they attended as private individuals, such as marches organised by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Song Jun of the Jiuhan Tiancheng, commented that the range of protests by NGO members gave him more to think about than the disorganised negotiations and dull reports and made him more determined than ever to keep his business on a green path. This entrepeneur, often criticised for being too idealistic, has always tried to persuade more people to accept traditional Chinese ideas of conservation, calling for a limit on human demands rather than technical solutions to environmental and climate issues.

In 2002, Song started investing in the Moonlight Lake eco-tourism project in the deserts of Inner Mongolia, in northern China. But it is hard to stick to environmental ideals in today’s China and he has suffered a number of financial setbacks, only making a profit after five or six years. Next he plans to implement his new grasslands conservation plan in Xilin Gol, which aims to bring back herders forced to leave by environmental problems. The plan won support from Wang Shi and Zhang Zaidong at Copenhagen – perhaps the most concrete result Song got from the summit.

Regardless, many people were left disappointed by the performance of these entrepreneurs at Copenhagen. Like the Chinese government, the Chinese business world has, over the last few years, been striving to improve communications and keep up with the global response to climate change and environmental protection. But getting that message across fully and accurately still needs work.

However, some are doing better than others. The story of how Zhang Yue of Broad Air-conditioning gave up his private jet is well known. And Broad's non-electric air-conditioners were the focus of the only corporate case study in a report presented to G8 leaders by former UK prime minister Tony Blair in 2008. Zhang came and went at Copenhagen, clutching his own document, Measures to Reduce CO2 Emissions. He believes that there is huge potential for emissions reductions to be made by the Chinese public, though nobody knows how he has worked this out.

Many are also familiar with the story of Huang Ming’s solar empire and he was one of the delegation’s most active speakers. He also organised a football match to urge countries not to pass the buck on climate change and, on returning to China, called for COP18, the UN-sponsored climate summit scheduled for 2012, to be held in China. Shi Zhengrong of solar firm Suntech Power is even better known internationally. In May 2009, he was the only Chinese entrepreneur from the private sector to appear at the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Unfortunately he was not able to be present at COP15.

But, for these business personalities, whether they come across well or badly is not the important thing. Wang Shi, Zhang Yue and Song Jun are more concerned about the weak message sent out by Copenhagen. Without a clear, strong and long signal, it is hard for businesses to make investment decisions – even for these pioneers who have not hestitated in going with the green flow.


Feng Jie is a journalist at
Southern Weekend and was formerly a reporter at the China Economic Herald.

Homepage image from hudong.com shows (left to right) Song Jun, Feng Lun, Wang Shi, Zhang Yue and Zhang Zaidong.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

先不看是不是秀

Mr.Yvo De Boer先生辞职的声明中是这样写的:

我一向认为,即使各国政府提供必要的政策框架,真正的解决办法仍然要来自商业。哥本哈根虽然没有为我们提供一份法律上的清晰协议,但其中的政治决心和迈向一个低碳世界的决心,却是势不可当的。这要求我们与商界建立新的合作关系,而现在我有实现这个可能的机会。

中国企业家无疑走在了前面,当然了,在哥本哈根,企业家都参加了什么活动,是不是作秀?这就需要看企业家们回来的行动了。
(另外,首页图片应该来自搜狐博客)

First, do not look at whether it is a show or not.

The resignation of Mr.Yvo De Boer is written as follows

I have always maintained that while governments provide the necessary policy framework, the real solutions must come from business,said Yvo de Boer. Copenhagen did not provide us with a clear agreement in legal terms, but the political commitment and sense of direction toward a low-emissions world are overwhelming. This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen, he added.

Chinese entrepreneurs are undoubtedly leading the way. Of course, in Copenhagen all entrepreneurs participated in movements, but what movements were not shows? This will require the entrepreneurs to return to see such actions. (Furthermore, the photograph should come from a blog).

This comment was translated by Laura Bewley.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

关注小

这批企业家不是地产商,就是空调电器商,充其量也就是搞太阳能的。

他们再投入,能减多少排?那些个排碳大户不出来念个宣言,自然就得不到太多的关注。当然排碳大户多是国企,老总不能乱出来代表企业说话,又或者说,说的话也代表不能什么。

Little Attention

This group of entrepreneurs are either property developers, or air-conditioning appliance dealers, or at best are in the solar energy business. No matter how devoted they are, how many emissions can they actually reduce? Surely emissions reduction won’t get much attention unless the larger emitters come out with some sort of statements. Of course most of the large emitters are state-owned enterprises, and their CEOs cannot carelessly speak for their enterprises, or rather, anything they do say does not count.

-translated by Xuan Luo

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

用环保做秀

(1)最后一段给人的印象反而是这些企业家带领着政客支持环保。如果这些企业家是要做符合伦理规定的事,那他们又为什么要等待?不论经济有多不景气都肯定会有一些有能力的广告媒体公司帮你扭转市场劣势。作为世界工厂,中国市场肯定有许多想支持环保的消费者。

(2)在住房入住率如此之低和房地产产业已经过热的情况下,万科集团的王石先生希望建造更多房屋的想法已经不是节俭或环保的行为了(虽然这种做法可以很好利用政府为了促进经济的快速发展而投入的剩余资金)。另外,除木材外,制造钢筋,水泥和建筑材料会排出大量的二氧化碳。但从高风险的国家进口木材是违法的,而且不稳定。所以一定会用到其他建造材料。

(3)中外对话最近大量关注由中国太阳能制造商引起的环境污染。
(4)用环保做秀

Fig leaves are green

1) The concluding paragraph gives the impression that these supposedly green entrepreneurs take their lead from politicians. Why wait if what they seek to do is ethically right? If the market is slow, surely there are some competent advertising agencies and media outlets which could skew the market in your favour. Presenting itself as the factory of the world, China's markets include those in which many consumers want to be green.

2) The idea of Mr Wang of Vanke to construct even more property when occupancy rates are so low and the sector is already overheated is far from either prudent (although it does use up much of the surplus money which the government has pumped intothe economy to achieve rapid growth at any cost) or green. The carbon cost of making steel, cement, and construction materials is huge - that of timber small. Although timber from High Risk countries might be supplied illegally and unsustainably, so surely are other building materials.

3) Chinadialogue.net recently drew attention to the huge environmental damage caused by China's solar energy manufacturers.

4) "Fig leaves" are "green"....

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

“皇帝不急太监急”背后的逻辑

咱们的中国商业大佬们去环保秀一下总比不秀好,能发多少声音就发多少声音也是值得赞赏的。至于为何没去世界可持续发展工商理事会的原因在于,我们的政府都没有发调子,这些靠着政府吃饭的商人们敢出这个风头嘛?就像熟话说的,“皇帝都不急”,你“太监急个啥”呢?你急也不顶用,更何况,在哥本哈根,你怎么能喧宾夺主,不让我们的众多领导放光?文章的作者既是南方周末的记者,你为什么不在报纸上公开发表宣言,发动我们的群众和政府行动起来,并且马上?在报纸上发表一些不痛不痒,一知半解的大话,肯定也是有些难言之隐吧,和这些成功的商人一样。

The logic behind 'The emperor is not in a hurry, but the eunuch is in a hurry'

Our big business moguls went to show their green credentials, but they did not do this well. Nevertheless even that they voiced some of their views is worth commending. As for why they did not attend the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, this is because the government was not in favour of it. Why would these business men who rely on the government for their daily bread dare to step out of line? Is this not like the saying 'The emperor is not in a hurry, but the eunuch is in a hurry'? Your impatience is useless, and even more so in the case of Copenhagen. How can what follows overtake that which leads? Does this not provide the masses with a leading light? The author of the article is a reporter for the 'Southern Weekend', why do you not openly publish a statement in your newspaper, calling the masses and government to action without delay? Publishing such pointless, inaccurate and boasting words in the newspaper, must also have some hidden agenda, just like those successful business men.