Resource Productivity — Good for China, Good for the World

Keynote address given at the China Development Forum 2005
“China: Building a Resource-Efficient Society”
Beijing, 25 June, 2005
Text without images

Dear Professor Lu Mai, dear Professor Liu Shinjin, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an unusual honour for me to be invited to this keynote address, which I have put it under the title of Resource Productivity.

Fig 1

This title contrasts with the preoccupation with labour productivity during the last 200 years of technological progress. Labour productivity has been the melody of the first Industrial Revolution. It increased twentyfold or more during those 200 years. This has been the basis of prosperity and it is the main theme of China’s stunning economic progress.

During those same 200 years, the world has also seen a systematic decrease of prices of natural resources.

Fig 2

This invited mankind to a wasteful use of those resources. Small wonder, then, that resource productivity was stagnant or even decreasing during much of this time.

Let me submit to you that we cannot continue on this road. It may be wise, chiefly for the industrialized countries to slow down the further increase of labour productivity while forcing the increase of resource productivity.

Forcing resource productivity has become an imperative also for the developing countries that cannot afford a wasteful use scarce resources. Obviously, this consideration was at the roots of planning this conference. The new trend in technological development, namely a strong emphasis on resource productivity, may be triggered by the recent increase of resource prices:

Fig 3

For China in particular, the rising commodity prices were a signal of warning. But then, you have additional reasons to become more resource efficient. It would allow you to simultaneously reduce one major health problem, namely pollution-caused mortality in your industrial agglomerations:

Fig 4

Clearly, air pollution should also be addressed directly by appropriate pollution control measures. These have an additional cost, which however, is far exceeded by the economic benefits for China, according to Stefan Hirschberg et al (2003) of the Swiss Paul Scherrer Institute:

Fig 5

China is going through the standard development with regard to pollution: Countries start poor and clean. Then they industrialize and get rich and dirty. And then they rich enough so that they can afford pollution control and end up rich and clean:

Fig 6

It has been the traditional view of the developing countries that they are too poor to pay for pollution control. As Indira Gandhi said it in 1972 at the first UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm: “Poverty is the biggest polluter”

Fig 7

Indira Gandhi’s slogan went down well not only with the political leaders of developing countries to whom it was a nice excuse for not acting on pollution control, but also for industry in the North that could conveniently say that they needed good profits for the sake of the environment.

The trouble is that today’s biggest environmental problems, biodiversity losses and climate change, are chiefly caused by the rich.

Fig 8

Regarding biodiversity, the biggest problem is habitat losses due to increased land use for agriculture, settlements, mining, energy and transport. You can estimate the acreage that is needed per person for a sustainable supply of all the daily goods and services. This is then the “ecological footprint” according to William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, caricatured in the next picture:

Fig 9

The ecological footprints of average Chinese people are roughly one hectare. We in Western Europe have footprints four times as large, and in the US and Canada, footprints are even eight times that size. If all 6.3 billion people had US type lifestyles, we would need three to four planets Earth to accommodate all their footprints. This is obviously unsustainable.

The other big problem is global warming. Global temperatures have been rising and falling over the last 160.000 years in close correspondence with CO2 concentrations.

Fig 10
Based on the physics behind this correlation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected temperatures to rise dramatically during our century:

Fig 11

The consequences could be alarming for water, food security and for biodiversity. You would also have to count with more devastating typhoons and, most dangerous perhaps, with a rising sea water table, indicated by the green line in the next picture.

Fig 12

The difference between high and low water tables is more than 100 metres, which means that coast lines will heavily vary. The next picture shows it for Italy. 20.000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, the Sea was lower and Italy was larger than today. But two million years ago there were no polar ice caps (and also the geological situation was different in the Mediterranean Basin) so that Italy was much smaller:

Fig 13

At present, we see a dramatic change of temperatures in the Arctic region, as has been discussed in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (2004). The summer freshwater coverage of Greenland has increased more than fourfold in ten years:

Fig 14

We are unable to predict the consequences of this development. But we know from historical records that ice masses can collapse or glide into the oceans in a very short period of time. This has been the case with the ice shield once covering Labrador and the Hudson Bay, which disintegrated during a few decades, perhaps even a few weeks some 7800 years ago, letting the sea water table rise by some 7 metres:

Fig 15

Imagine what such a mega-event would mean for China’s or Japan’s coastal areas, or for the Netherlands or Egypt or Florida!

What do we have to do to prevent such disasters from happening? It is plausible that at least we should try to stabilize CO2 concentrations. This, however, will require us to reduce annual CO2-emissions by 60-80 percent, according to the IPCC. Let us optimistically assume that 50 percent will do. But under the present trends, we shall get exactly the opposite. We are heading for a doubling of CO2-emissions:

Fig 16

China, India and other countries are drastically expanding their industrial outputs, their motorized transportation and their energy consuming housing and agriculture. So we shall see China and India to have emissions similar to those of the US:

Fig 17

Fig 18

The world energy pie shows that worldwide we have still an overwhelming dominance of fossil fuels.

Fig 19

In Europe, we have begun systematically to work on the reduction of CO2-emissions. The trading began in December, 2004. Initially, the prices paid per ton of CO2-emissions were at around 8 Euros. Meanwhile, prices have roughly doubled.

Fig 20

One component of our combating greenhouse gas emissions has been the increase of renewable sources of energy. In Germany, we have been quite successful in this:

Fig 21

We were very glad to see a large Chinese delegation at the Renewables 2004 conference in Bonn last year, and many said that China was about to copy the German system and is now planning another such conference this November. However, for all their merits, the renewables will not suffice to solve the problem. The energy pie is simply too large and must be reduced if we want to fight global warming and also avoid a dangerous dependence on nuclear power.

The key to the answer will be a Second Industrial Revolution focussing on the strategic increase of resource productivity. This has been the vision in the book “Factor Four. Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use”, which was also translated into Chinese:

Fig 22

It has been known for a long time that lower energy intensity is a sign of modernity:

Fig 23

We therefore see the Factor Four story as a true continuation of technological modernization and progress.

Let me now open a window for you to look into the new universe of eco-efficient technologies. The pictures will mostly compare existing technologies on the left hand side with new technologies on the right hand side that are some four times, or even ten or a hundred times more resource efficient than the old ones.

Fig 24

Let me start with my co-author’s Amory Lovins’ favourite idea, the “hypercar”, which allegedly does 150 miles a gallon, or needs only 1,5 litres per 100 kilometres.

Fig 25

Some remain a bit sceptical about its success but according to Amory, some 2 billion dollars have already been invested in the concept.

Fig 26

The next is Amory Lovins’ institute and home, the Rocky Mountain Institute, high up in the Rocky Mountains, which during much of the year is largely energy-self-sufficient and is easily a factor of ten better regarding energy than typical mountain.

Fig 27

The concept has been transferred ten years ago to ordinary apartment houses in Germany and elsewhere, as “passive houses” making use of solar heat and of heat exchange ventilation.

Fig 28

In my political constituency, Stuttgart, or rather in nearby Fellbach, we have a true zero-external-energy house. It has become a tourist attraction. And part of the excess energy it produces is channelled into a super-efficient car.

You all know the efficient light bulbs that need only a quarter of the electricity used in old incandescent bulbs. China has become the largest manufacturer worldwide of the efficiency bulbs. However, as most of you know, this is not yet the end of the road. Light diodes are coming up that are yet another factor of two or three better than the efficiency bulbs shown on the picture.

Fig 29

This is a small cooling chamber to replace the refrigerator that stands freely in the kitchen. Two weeks ago, I met with a Japanese gentleman who told me that even freely standing refrigerators have now been developed that are seven times more energy efficient that the old ones. The new development was probably triggered by the “Top runner programme” of Japan.

Fig 30

Fig 31

If you replace the old-fashioned filing cabinet technology by CD ROM’s you save more than a factor of ten and you have easier access to your data.

Fig 32

Water scarcity is one of the biggest problems of China. You may therefore be interested in a technology used in Germany that has reduced water consumption twelve fold in paper manufacturing, chiefly by systematically recycling and cleaning waste water.

Fig 33

My friend Professor Ryoichi Yamamoto of Tokyo once sent me the above picture showing a thin rod of steel that has the strength and capacities of otherwise ten times more resource consuming steel.

Fig 34

Video conferences are, of course, something like a factor of one hundred more energy efficient than the otherwise necessary business travel. I admit that video does not easily substitute for a business meeting on the Bahamas.

Fig 35

This is the story of modern, energy intensive agriculture. Winter tomato grown in greenhouses in Holland tend to need a hundred times more energy than they afterwards contain! With intensive cattle farming, the ratio is hardly better. Organic farming, on the other hand, is roughly by a factor of four more energy efficient.

Fig 36

This is the well-known strawberry yoghurt saga established by Stephanie Böge at the Wuppertal Institute. Lorries criss-cross Europe and drive some 8000 kilometres for the manufacturing of strawberry yoghurt. Obviously you could do at least ten times better.

So much perhaps to encourage you to think further about the upcoming technological revolution. Let me close by making a few remarks about methods to arrive there.

China is one of the countries that has established efficiency standards for cars. To meet the 2008 standards, many European and American car manufacturers have still to do considerable homework, while Toyota is well prepared.

Fig 37 [*]

In the business world we seem to see a slight competitive advantage of eco-efficient companies listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index over the average listed in the Dow Jones Group Index.

Fig 38

And if you compare different countries using the World Economic Forum’s Competitiveness Index you see a positive correlation with the Sustainable Development Index of countries.

Fig 39

So we seem to be on a good way. However, this is all too slow to reach the necessary factor of four. Let me in closing say a few words about instruments. I am impressed with what I heard in China about the determination with which you are creating incentives for more resource efficient technologies. Moreover, Douglas Ogden this morning mentioned the possibility of tax refunds for companies that achieve ambitious standards, and James Sweeney spoke about appropriate pricing.

Japan has gone a considerable step further with her “top runner programme” that makes the most energy efficient appliance or vehicle the top runner or standard and announces shame on those companies in a few years that still sell outdated, less efficient items. Ultimately they even have to pay a fine.

Germany and other countries have adopted an ecological tax reform to reduce the fiscal load on human labour while making natural resources more expensive.

And at the G 8 Summit that takes place in a few days, we hope countries agree on a geographical extension of climate policy beyond “Kyoto”. We hope that also China, India, Brazil etc will be invited under fair term to join international climate policy.

For this, the North has to understand that the present “grandfathering” approach is unfair to the developing countries and has to be replaced step by step by a system based on per capita allowances, – which would be good for China and India.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I feel that the race is on worldwide among countries and among companies to take the lead in the Second Industrial Revolution that is driven by the second melody of progress, the melody of a revolutionary increase of resource productivity.

Thank you for your patience and attention!


  • Hirschberg, Stefan, et al. 2003
  • Rees, William and Mathis Wackernagel
  • Von Weizsäcker, Ernst Ulrich, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins. 1997. Factor Four. Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use. A Report to the Club of Rome. London: Earthscan. Also available in Chinese and ten other languages.

[*] After the lecture, I was approached by a reresentative of General Motors who said that GM had also met the standards with cars exported to China.