Australia China Business Council (ACBC) national president David Olsson. Backdrop: China-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. Image: ACBC / Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Development Co Ltd

The Australia China Business Council has released its inaugural report outlining the scale of the net zero challenge and reinforcing the importance of bilateral and multilateral trade and investment relationships needed to achieve decarbonisation. 

The Climate Challenge: Opportunities from Collaboration across Australia and China was released this week at the ACBC’s Canberra Networking Day. It was published under the  council’s Green Channel initiative and  produced in partnership with legal firm King & Wood Mallesons, with support from members.

Key findings include that nurturing the Sino-Australian relationship needs better understanding of practical and realistic opportunities for business collaboration between our two countries.

The report found that greater collaboration and building a stronger relationship is vital if we are to address the shared challenges of decarbonisation. Australia and China formalised diplomatic relations 50 years ago. However in the past few years, the global pandemic and regional geopolitics has led to a disconnect between the two countries. 

China’s role

At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in 2021, or COP26, Australia and China were among more than 40 countries that agreed to the Breakthrough Agenda, with the goal to make low-emissions solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive in emitting industries including power, transport, steel and cement. 

China’s role in climate change mitigation is critical to achieving net zero goals globally. The country  aims to have carbon dioxide emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, while Australia is aiming for net zero by 2050. 

China’s current 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) outlines a vision for carbon neutrality, including increasing non-fossil fuel energy to 20 per cent by 2025, establishing a modern energy system and reforestation. It now has the largest share of the world’s solar photovoltaics, wind turbine, and electric vehicle battery manufacturing, according to the International Energy Agency. 

When it comes to the private sector, voluntary net zero commitments are also increasing in the country, with a UNDP and PwC study finding that over 75 per cent of surveyed companies were undertaking low-carbon initiatives. 

Anthony Coles, ACBC net zero working group chair. Image: ACBC

Anthony Coles, ACBC net zero working group chair said it was striking how committed to net zero outcomes the companies were.

“There is a huge industrial transformation underway in China. [Chinese] companies that had investments in Australia were already active with their decarbonisation initiatives. All wanted a path to peak emissions by 2030, with many determined to show results against new 14th Five-Year Plan targets by 2025. It was eye-opening.”

What is missing is a stronger connection between Australian and Chinese businesses towards net zero, the report has found. This is critical for energy transition in Australia’s future-facing industries, so that information can be shared and there can be cross-collaboration on how to decarbonise quickly.

Professor Jun Huang, University of Sydney, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering said that building that relationship is more important than ever.

“For many important reasons, we need to know each other and foster strong network connections – not only to generate IP but, ultimately, to develop collaborative, global solutions that address the greatest challenges of our times.”

Professor Huang is developing a new method to convert carbon dioxide at an industrial scale, using nanotechnology. 

Professor Jun Huang, University of Sydney School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (left) is developing a new method to convert carbon dioxide at an industrial scale using using nanotechnology. Image: Luisa Low / University of Sydney

Despite steady growth in renewable energy in the last ten years, fossil fuels still made up the majority of the energy mix in both China and Australia in 2020 – 85 per cent of China’s primary energy needs were met with fossil fuels, and 72 per cent in Australia.

The need for green cities

One of the vital components to strengthening Sino-Australian collaboration on the climate challenge is cities, with the report acknowledging that about 70 per cent of the world’s population is  expected to be city-dwellers within the next 30  years. 

The report pointed to the “green city” of the future, with readily accessible public transport, renewable power sources, sustainable infrastructure, efficient water and waste management strategies, circular economy practices and abundant public green spaces.

One example is the China-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City, a sustainable planned city 150 kilometres from Beijing, which started construction in 2008 through collaboration between the Chinese and Singaporean governments.

It was deliberately built on non-arable, polluted land to demonstrate that sustainability concepts can be applied even in the most neglected environments. It has an “eco-cell” design concept – informed by Singapore’s town planning – where public social amenities are co-located with residential estates and commercial buildings.

China Singapore Tianjin Eco City was deliberately built on non-arable, polluted land to demonstrate that sustainability concepts can be applied even in the most neglected environments. Image: ACBC / Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Development Co Ltd

Research indicates that co-located medium-to-high density high-mixed-use precincts with highly connected streets and walkability are correlated with lowered greenhouse gas emissions, the report stated.

Another case study is the globally significant SCGZero+ project commissioned by Shanghai Construction Group and designed by Decibel Architects. 

China’s highest-rated sustainable building was informed by innovations in sustainable design from the Pixel building in Melbourne and is China’s first “five zero” building: zero carbon, water, energy, waste and formaldehyde

The 11509 square metre building utilises prefabricated construction methodologies and modular green building systems.

“The project represents a new way of building, of embedding technology and symbiosis in everyday thinking, and of celebrating life in this new and challenging century. The cultural depth in developing new ways of thinking and working with China brings fresh and innovative perspectives that deepen understanding and success in China, and around the world,” Dylan Brady, Decibel lead architect for SCGZero+ Project said. 

It’s not just new developments that are being greened, though. Beijing has seen an aggressive rollout of EV infrastructure since 2018, 17,000 EVs and 130,000 charging points, 37,000 of them public, have been installed in the city. 

In addition, China’s Sponge City program is ambitious and the country plans for at least 80 per cent of municipal areas to have sponge city elements by 2030. 

This means that 30 cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have already been allocated between RMB400-600 (A$85-A$128) million as part of a pilot initiative to transform them into more permeable spaces that can prevent devastating flooding and water shortages, and promote biodiversity and green urban spaces.

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