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Advisory Body Eyes “Green” Consumption Vouchers

As local governments turn to consumer vouchers to revive economies battered by COVID-19, a high-level international advisory body for the Chinese government saw a golden opportunity to promote the country’s ecological progress by making use of such vouchers to leverage green consumption.

Aside from stimulating the economy, “green” consumer vouchers boast of long-lasting significance in facilitating the country’s transformation to low-carbon and high-quality development, according to a research team with the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development.

Local governments in some regions, including Hubei and Zhejiang provinces, have been handing out consumer vouchers to stimulate consumption since March. These initiatives “have showed marked multiplier effects in stimulating economic recovery,” according to a media release from the team, which has been researching innovation and sustainable production and consumption since 2018.

For example, Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, the city hit hardest by the coronavirus, has been running a program with consumer vouchers worth a total of 2.3 billion yuan ($324 million) since April 19.

The team’s analysis found, however, current consumer voucher programs have yet to incorporate the concept of green consumption, though the concept was encouraged in a recent official guideline for consumption stimulation and economic revival.

Jointly published in March by 23 departments, including the National Development and Reform Commission, the document demands the promotion of green consumption by encouraging the use of green and intelligent products.

Zhang Jianyu, deputy head of the research team, said “it’s the right time” to introduce green consumer vouchers, as it would result in a win-win situation for economic revival and sustainable development.

The epidemic has triggered introspection from the public over the relationship between humans and nature, and many people have been discussing how to ensure high-quality, sustainable development while stimulating economic recovery, said Zhang, also founder and chief representative of the Environmental Defense Fund’s China program.

To make the green initiative viable, the team proposes that governments at all levels draft criteria for recognition of “green businesses “for different industries, in the light of regional economic development, and set up alliances of green businesses.

Meanwhile, a points-based system could also be brought in to reward people with low carbon behaviors with points that could change for vouchers.

Zhang said such points-based systems have been in place in some regions that are piloting carbon emission trading. The systems could recognize and calculate the reduction of carbon emission in people’s green and low-carbon activities and reward them with points.

These projects are of great significance in enhancing people’s awareness on green consumption and their recognition of challenges from climate change. They have also laid a good foundation and can be instructive for systematic promotion of green consumption via online digital platforms, he said.

Zhang said the country’s major online platforms could play a major role in the green initiative.

“Currently, local governments all turn to digital platforms such as Alipay and WeChat to hand out consumer vouchers online. According to incomplete statistics, Alipay and WeChat each have over 1 billion users. They have built up wide-ranging digital life networks with multiple functions,” he said.

If the government makes the consumer voucher “green”, these platforms could make use of the opportunity to incorporate green and low-carbon elements into their existing business modules.

While contributing to the establishment of the alliances of green businesses, they could also incorporate functions that certify “green products” to facilitate the green transition.

Established in 1992 and currently chaired by Vice-Premier Han Zheng, the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development consists of senior Chinese and international officials and experts.

The council serves as a high-level advisory body with a mandate to conduct research and to provide policy recommendations to the Chinese government on environment and development.

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