Promoting China-ASEAN Green Transformation Through BRI

Exclusive interview with Erik Solheim, former under-secretary-general of the United Nations and former executive director of the UN Environment Programme

By Tian Yuan, Huang Jiangqin

On April 16, Erik Solheim, former under-secretary-general of the United Nations, former executive director of the UN Environment Programme, and former minister of environment and international development of Norway, visited the International Finance Forum (IFF) Secretariat in Guangzhou, south China’s Guangdong Province, alongside Hege Araldsen, consul general of Norway in Guangzhou. They visited the IFF Permanent Conference Site under construction, the Nansha Pearl Bay Development and Exhibition Center, and the Yuexiu International Financial Center, and made detailed inquiries about the construction of an international financial hub in Nansha designated to serve the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA). 


Solheim also held discussions with Song Min, member of the IFF Executive Committee, executive director of the IFF Academic Committee, and president of the IFF Institute, and Lv Xue, member of the IFF Academic Committee and former chief climate change expert for the Asian Development Bank, on topics such as further exploring cooperation on sustainable development, jointly promoting global ecological and environmental governance, and actively promoting cooperation on world peace and development.

Solheim is also co-chair of the “IFF Global Green Finance Award.” After the visit, he sat down for an exclusive interview with China Report ASEAN on the current status and future prospects of green financial cooperation between the GBA and ASEAN countries.  

China Report ASEAN: Mr. Solheim, you once said, “To truly solve the world’s environmental problems, we face two main challenges. One is the need to make the green transition fair.” Due to different national conditions, ASEAN member states may face diverse challenges in green transformation. What are your views on maximizing the fairness of the process?

Solheim: The green transition is immensely beneficial for all the world’s nations. It will create many new jobs and lift millions out of poverty while taking much better care of Mother Earth and our health. Still, some regions and individuals may feel left out. Heavily industrialized provinces and old people who find it challenging to retrain for new opportunities must be helped. Governments should put in place regional development programs for old style industrial areas or left-behind agricultural districts. Individuals should be offered new opportunities to reskill for a better life in the green economy.

China Report ASEAN: You mentioned that “China can share the best environmental protection measures and technology with the world through the media of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).” What kind of measures and technologies could China share with other BRI countries? Could you give us some examples?

Solheim: China is now the undisputed world leader in every green technology. Last year, 82 percent of all solar panels and 70 percent of all electric batteries were produced in one country alone, China. Seventy percent of all green high-speed trains run on Chinese tracks, and 98 percent of all electric buses on Chinese roads. Chinese companies can play a key role by investing even more in the green future of Belt and Road countries. We have already seen China building the Laos-Yunnan Railway, a new metro in Hanoi, a railway from Bandung to Jakarta, and a lot more. The Belt and Road Green Development Coalition, which I co-lead, can help spread knowledge and expertise from China to the world.

Furthermore, many probably do not yet realize that China is now also a green leader in the protection of nature. It’s by far the biggest tree planting nation in the world. Giant pandas and snow leopards have been removed from the red lists of threatened species thanks to good conservation programs in Sichuan and western China. Kubuqi in Inner Mongolia is a global best practice for green restoration of deserts. Zhejiang leads the world in rural restoration of rivers, and Shenzhen is neck-and-neck with Singapore in many ways. It may be the world’s greenest city with wetland and green corridors throughout.

China Report ASEAN: How can ASEAN member states like Indonesia achieve win-win development through sustainable cooperation with the GBA?

Solheim: I should mention the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), an Indonesian company supplying massive amounts of paper, tissues, palm oil, and viscose to the Chinese market. They run the world’s largest paper mill in Guangdong. In the past, the RGE was part of the problem. They were using the beautiful Indonesian rainforest for their products in an unsustainable manner. Now, the RGE has zero deforestation in its value chain. It is protecting a huge rainforest in Sumatra and working hard to ensure that all products made from Indonesian raw materials for the Chinese market are green. This has become a remarkable practical example of the bridges between ASEAN and the GBA.

China Report ASEAN: What role do you think the GBA could play in green financial cooperation between China and ASEAN? How can the unique advantages of the GBA be leveraged?

Solheim: The GBA is the most dynamic business region in the world. It’s one of the biggest economies anywhere. It hosts unique knowledge and resources. It’s home to remarkable companies like Huawei, Tencent, BYD, and DJI, just to mention a few. Companies from the GBA will play a key role in investing in Indonesia, the Philippines, and the rest of ASEAN. Culture and shared languages have also nurtured deep partnerships between the peoples of southern China and ASEAN. ASEAN nations offer human and natural resources. Trade, tourism, partnerships between universities, and a lot more will make this GBA-ASEAN combination one of the most hopeful and prosperous parts of the world in the 21st Century.

China Report ASEAN: What role could dialogue platforms such as the IFF play in green finance cooperation? What is your advice specifically?

Solheim: The IFF is very well placed to serve as an intellectual powerhouse for green finance in the region. It offers unique access to thousands of thinkers from the region and the rest of the world. Its new wonderful facilities in Nansha, right in the middle of the GBA, will attract people to exchange ideas, business practices, knowledge of financial opportunities, and a lot more. Its award program will inspire businesses to dive into even braver green efforts. This platform will be critical to the future green development of Southeast Asia and beyond.

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