This week my Chinese friends, alongside two billion people around the world, say farewell to the strange and difficult year of the Rat and welcome the new one, the year of the Ox. I miss the festive spirits of the season: the bright red lanterns and colourful paper cuttings adorning every home and business, the happy faces of kids anticipating rare delicacies and red envelopes full of money, the lion dances and temple markets. I even miss the incessant firecrackers that used to annoy me so when celebrating the holiday in China.
I hear that celebrations are somewhat subdued this year though, not unlike the muted way western countries ushered in 2021 a while ago. Migrant workers are discouraged from making the yearly pilgrimage back to their hometowns, extended families are to resist the urge to reunite over the annual ceremony of wrapping and devouring dumplings and the brave new tribe of Chinese world travellers need to temporarily curb their enthusiasm, there is simply no safer place than home.
Wrapping up this overall ratty year, there are however some bright spots that might put us all in the mood to celebrate, with or without the accompanying dumplings. Only last month a well-attended roundtable discussion on ESG in China was held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, in Mandarin Chinese. The E in ESG at least seems to be getting a lot of traction in the Middle Kingdom. It has certainly not escaped the attention of investors in the region that President Xi Jinping pledged China would reach its peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060 at the UN General Assembly last September. Chinese financial regulators have also started to shape a positive environment for making ESG policies mainstream.
Being a Beijinger at heart, I focus on more tangible news and rejoice in another positive development. With the full set of 2020 numbers now reported, it is a fact that for the sixth consecutive year the air quality in Beijing has improved by leaps and bounds. The annual AQI reading for 2020 ended up at 78, a 10 percent improvement over 2019’s final average of 87. This also means that since 2014 (when data from the Ministry of Ecology & Environment became publicly available), the AQI has improved by 39 percent!
So, let us, for a few celebratory days at least, forget that China is still adding more than three times as much new coal power capacity as all other countries in the world combined and breathe in the fresh(er) air of the capital. Then, once the holidays are over and the Ox year begins in earnest, it is time to roll up our sleeves again and pick up the hard work. After all, oxen are all about grit and perseverance, and that’s what we need to achieve a sustainable future.
Happy new year!
 You might however be disappointed to learn that ‘ESG’ in Mandarin is still ‘ESG’