Scientist: Companies can replicate domestic success on the continent
Chinese enterprises are prepared to help push forward Africa's ambition to industrialize while also conserving the continent's environment, according to a top UN scientist.
"They are ready when Africa is ready," said Liu Jian, chief scientist at the UN Environment Program.
He was speaking after the third United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, in December, which saw a notable increase in Chinese delegations.
"Chinese firms have made meaningful gains over the past decade after Beijing's directive to prioritize green sectors," Liu said. "These firms can therefore draw on their experience and replicate their successes in Africa to make a significant impact."
He attributed the enterprises' achievements back home to their increased awareness of environmental protection, a sense of global citizenship and government encouragement to develop sustainable green businesses.
Li Fengting, deputy dean of the Tongji Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development, based in Shanghai, agreed.
"In the past five years, the Chinese government has implemented strict energy and environmental laws to guide local authorities," he said. "Environmental protection has become a priority. More companies have been forced to promote efficiency in their production, which will lead to sustainable development in society."
As an ardent believer in forging closer links between academia and the private sector, Li said exchanges between Chinese and African institutions of higher education will guide companies in making informed investments that promote the green economy in Africa.
"Capacity-building programs can be developed to benefit both Chinese investors and investment destinations on the continent," he said.
Liu with the UNEP said Africa's energy sector was the first to receive Chinese investment, followed by water resources, an area close to Li's heart. The scholar has spearheaded water treatment projects in 10 countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya.
During the UN assembly in December, Chinese enterprises presented their capabilities in big data analysis for air and water quality monitoring, while experts also underscored the opportunities of data analysis with high-performance computing, or HPC.
"The challenge in Africa is not only the acquisition of HPC, but also more importantly the increase of bandwidths," said Francis Ochieng, a postgraduate student and researcher at the University of Nottingham Ningbo in eastern China.
He said South Africa has the only operational HPC on the continent, which presents an enormous opportunity for Chinese companies to deploy the technology in critical areas of energy, water, transport, health and climate.
Yet although Li said he believes Africa is ready for and in need of such technology to boost its growth trajectory, he added that reforms are needed to further improve the investment environment, especially for Chinese enterprises.
"China underwent radical reforms three decades ago as it was opening-up. Africa can replicate this success, too," he said.