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China: Clean water and green hills are hills of gold and silver

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20/11/2022 | 3 minuty čtení

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At the opening ceremony of the widely covered 20th CCP Congress, president Xi Jinping pointed to environmental protection as one of the key achievements of the past decade. “Clean water and green hills are hills of gold and silver,” is the phrase Xi likes to use.

Environmental protection was also on the list of 15 key priorities for the coming period.[1] Energy transition (literally “energy revolution”) towards net zero remains the ultimate goal and it will require accelerating of construction of renewable energy facilities in order to reach that goal.

At the same time, however, Xi stressed prudence, gradual and well-planned progress, and “getting new before discarding the old”. In other words, energy transition must not threaten energy security.[2]

Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria

It is a well-known fact, that China has made great leaps in its environmental management. In 2014 the president declared a “war on air pollution”, and in 2020, China announced its aim to reach peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

For several years, the country has been the largest green investor in the world. In 2021 alone, China invested $266 billion into energy transition, which is 35% of the global total.[3] Most of the investment went to wind and solar capacity and transport electrification.[4] Last year, China also started operating its own national carbon trading scheme.[5]

The Chinese climate agenda, however, has suffered a series of setbacks in 2022. High dependency on water energy led to power shortages during the summer drought. This September, the drought resulted in stoppages and, consequently, a 10% drop in aluminum production in the heavily hydro-power dependent Yunnan province known as the “aluminum hub” of China.[6]

Perhaps more importantly, the faltering economic growth is calling for stimulus spending by the government. This usually feeds highly emitting industries such as steel or cement for infrastructure projects.[7]

The government´s push for environmental agenda has driven a massive boom of ESG funds in the past two years. In just one year, the number of ESG funds has doubled[8]. But, interestingly, European ESG funds hold about $130B in Chinese assets — more than twice the size of China’s own domestic ESG fund industry.[9]

[1] https://www.12371.cn/2022/10/16/ARTI1665891757126114.shtml

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-10-16/china-won-t-rush-its-clean-energy-transformation-xi-says

[3] https://www.visualcapitalist.com/ranked-the-top-10-countries-by-energy-transition-investment/

[4] https://www.visualcapitalist.com/ranked-the-top-10-countries-by-energy-transition-investment/

[5] https://chinadialogue.net/en/climate/the-first-year-of-chinas-national-carbon-market-reviewed/

[6] https://www.fastmarkets.com/insights/yunnan-aluminium-producers-ordered-to-cut-output-amid-power-rationing

[7] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-10-14/xi-s-green-china-dream-tested-by-weak-economy-and-global-strife

[8] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2022-09-07/china-s-esg-funds-doubled-since-2021-video

[9] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-09-06/china-s-esg-fund-investing-boom-follows-xi-s-political-agenda

Source: Reuters/Carlos Barria

Chinese ESG funds and indexes, have somewhat different rules from the Western ones. Earlier this year, Shenzhen Securities Information, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (SZSE), launched its CNI ESG Ratings Methodology. Some of the indicators correspond to national strategic goals such as “rural revitalization” and “common prosperity”. This is one of the reasons why Chinese ESG funds are so popular with Chinese investors – they believe that these investments are in sync with the government´s direction. [1]

Bloomberg pointed out, that Chinese ESG funds are very often exposed to industries with a negative impact. Over 60% of Chinese ESG funds have holdings in steel industry, 51% in defense and aerospace and some even in tobacco and alcohol (19%) or coal (15%). The exposure to these industries, however, is quite limited – mostly below 5% of the funds’ assets.[2]

For a complete picture, it should be pointed out that even in the EU, which holds some of the most rigid criteria, funds can be exposed to fossil-fuel stocks under the so-called Article 8 rules as long as they “promote” sustainability.

[1] https://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/3193743/chinas-goal-esg-standards-chinese-characteristics-faces

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-09-06/china-s-esg-fund-investing-boom-follows-xi-s-political-agenda

Each circle represents an ESG fud in China with holdings in these areas, sized by value of investments there

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