EU, China face same issues

The European Union suffers from a high population density and an increasing energy demand. But so does China.

In a lecture Monday at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Alice Newton of Algarve University in Portugal addressed the ways in which the two governments can collaborate to solve resulting social and environmental issues — ranging from marine biodiversity to rural development — common to both.

Newton began by questioning Europe’s approach to collaboration with China. Europeans, she said, must ask themselves if they are exporting their pollution problems to China in exchange for inexpensive goods. Once they recognize that many of China’s environmentally-endangering practices economically benefit Europeans, Newton said she believed that Europeans will be compelled to work closely with China to find solutions to joint problems. However, she warned, the EU must give the Chinese decision-making power in policy matters affecting their nation.

“It is a tricky balance between policy and politics,” Newton said. “You have to be careful not to step over that line.”

In 2004, China and the EU had equal ecological footprints. Since then, Newton said, China has surpassed Europe. Since approximately 1980, China has experienced rapid industrial growth but has not reached the same standards of industrial efficiency as fully developed nations in Europe and the U.S.

For example, China produces 35 percent of the world’s steel and emits 20 percent more pollutants per ton of steel produced than the developed world’s average. It also produces 50 percent of the world’s cement, but with 45 percent more waste.

These figures, along with a growing middle class of over 400 million people, create a situation in China that will bring broad lifestyle changes, Newton said. She said she is already seeing similar changes as the European Union broadens its political scope and countries become more affluent.

In order to create greater environmental capacity, the EU, through the Erasmus Mundus international education program, is researching fields such as marine biodiversity and conservation, GIS mapping, geology and seismology, quality in analytical laboratories, environmental policy, rural development, forestry and agriculture, and water management.

Each of these issues exists in China too, and the EU, Newton explained, is trying to create a system for information-sharing.

“If we can engage the Chinese about how they will be affected,” Newton said, “that is a win-win situation.”

The lecture was predominately attended by graduate students at the environment school, many of whom were Chinese. Newton, hailing from Portugal, is the only speaker in the series who is not from either China or the United States, so some students said they felt that she was the least connected to the lecture series topic. However, one teaching assistant said that Newton’s connection to Europe made her talk more pertinent.

“The challenge China faces is more similar to that of the EU [than to that of the U.S.] because of their population and the age of their cities,” she said.

The lecture series gives students the opportunity to delve deeper into a policy area in which they are interested without the burden of a full-credit course, and because it is a series of lectures, some of the content is broader than information contained in a regular class.

“I think the point is to have an expert cover a large area of knowledge,” Heather Colman-McGill MEM ’09 said. “I’m planning on speaking to [Newton] afterwards in more detail about a specific part of her talk I’m interested in.”

The lecture on “EU Collaboration with China in Environmental Capacity Building” is part of a series on China and the environment hosted by the university. Approximately 40 graduate students and professors attended the event, many as part of a one-credit class involving the lecture series and follow-up discussion sections.

The lecture series continues next week with professor Xu Zhao of the Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China, speaking on Energy Conservation and Emission Reduction in China.

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