Banks Society and Oriental Society Darran Messem on sustainable development in China

The Banks Society teamed up with the Oriental Society on Thursday 2 February to welcome Darran Messem, Director (International) at the Carbon Trust, to present a talk intriguingly entitled ‘Multifaceted China: Sustainable Development in a country that’s both richer and poorer, older and newer, more sophisticated and less sophisticated, and more polluting and less polluting.’ How can this be, one might ask? Mr Messem, a geography graduate of Queens’ College, Cambridge, had built up this personal perspective as a result of considering the economic, cultural and political histories of this most fascinating nation. Whilst considerably wealthy with respect to GDP, China’s GDP per capita suggests a less developed country, even though some areas are considerably richer than anywhere in the U.K. With respect to culture, he used his own experience of being welcomed in China with a personalised Chinese name and being placed facing North at mealtimes – guests face northwards there – to highlight how much China treasures and respects its traditions whilst the U.K. has rather lost its way in this regard. And referring to the political history, he emphasised that despite being a land occupied and ruled over for thousands of years the state is relatively new, having only been established in the early 20th century.

Mr Messem then used this multifaceted nature as a launch-pad for considering China’s stance on energy. China is the world’s worst emitter of carbon dioxide equivalents, but it must be noted that on a per capita basis China is doing rather well, and significantly better than the U.K. Indeed, despite China having around another 400 years worth of coal, the country has invested in a multitude of hydroelectric power plants and has the potential to create even more, whilst it has recently been decommissioning its older, less efficient coal-fired power plants. It must be noted that China’s geography is better suited to renewable energies than the U.K. due to its vastly bigger land area and varying landscape. Mr Messem himself is actually a director of the China UK Low Carbon Enterprises Company (CULCEC), which is a joint venture between the Carbon Trust and China Energy Conservation & Environment Protection that seeks to invest in Anglo-Chinese clean technology development and it became clear from his words that this would be a fruitful relationship as the government of China believes in doing precisely what it wants to do and doing it fast with zero compromise on quality. Quite simply, the Chinese government mandates and the job is done; this process being the result of the nation’s political history, pride and almost ruthless determination. Sadly, we in the U.K. are not in such a fortunate position as we neither have the geography nor the common consent required by our legal and political systems; the latter is not necessarily bad, but it does impede our infrastructure development. However, in answer to one boy’s question about renewables, Mr Messem stated that he personally believed that nuclear power and carbon capture & storage (CCS) will be the major players in our energy future. There’s still hope!

Peregrine Dunn OS (SMM)