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Rice farmer in China

"Without water, there is no life"

China is Germany’s most important partner in Asia. Joint water research has enabled China to establish over 2500 new, modern sewage plants in the last decade. In Shanghai, Germany and China kicked off a new German-Chinese research and innovation programme entitled “Clean Water.” In the following interview, Research Minister Annette Schavan explains the goals of this new program and how sustainable handling of water and energy is possible even in rapidly growing regions.

“Always faster, always higher, always more? Things cannot go on like this.”

Minister Annette SchavanFederal Minister of Education and Research Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan

Questions for Research Minister Annette Schavan about China, clean water and the sustainability strategy of the German government

Ms. Schavan, your first trip in the new year brings you to China. Why?

A great deal has happened recently in our bilateral cooperation. This shows that China is our most important partner in Asia. I’ll just mention the first German-Chinese innovation conference in Peking last September. Or the first German-Chinese government consultations in Berlin last June. At those meetings we signed various agreements regarding, for example, professional training or cooperation between universities. And at the Hannover Messe, the largest industry trade show in the world, China was represented by more than five-hundred exhibits. This year, China is even the official partner country of the trade show.

Now your trip isn’t primarily focused on the economy but rather on water. What does this have to do with China?

Today China’s rivers are in a condition comparable to that of the Rhine, Elbe, and Danube in the seventies. Water consumption of the Chinese people is increasing, just like that of the industry, and at the same time more sewage is accumulating in the many densely populated areas - on the coasts, but also inland. In 1988 Germany and China had already started joint water research supported by the research ministers in both lands. So the Chinese-German collaboration is based on decades of experience. This partnership contributed to the fact that in the last ten years, China built over 2500 new, modern sewage plants. We helped to realize the water management concept of the Olympic Park in Peking 2008. And at the World Expo, we presented a “semicentralized supply and treatment centre” together. This technology makes it possible to conserve drinking water, be energy self-sustaining, and even to make valuable raw materials such as phosphor useable for the agricultural industry.

What’s new?

My colleague Wan Gang and I are firing the starting shot for a new programme: the German-Chinese research and innovation programme “Clean Water.” The goal with this is to develop new ideas and to bring the leading players together. We want to show the world that sustainable handling of water and energy is possible even in rapidly growing regions. This is fundamental. Because without water, simply put, there is no life.

You’ve already mentioned the key word: sustainability. How important is this to the current Federal Government?

I would say the concern surrounding sustainability determines all of our political actions in 2012. All of us need to become more active than we have been; all of society must change the way it thinks. Above all, we have to help the economy to position itself anew because growth isn’t everything. The world of records – everything faster! higher! further! – this approach seems to be nearing its limits. Only when we understand this can we preserve the future generations’ chances of survival.

Is this Cassandra speaking?

No, it’s not too late.  But we are actually on the brink of a revolution. It will change our society greatly. Research and development are the key; they must help to find solutions for the new challenges we face. It’s for this reason that investments in education and research are at the top of the priority list in this legislative period. Our goal is to invest 3% of the gross domestic product in education and research – and at 2.8%, we’re already quite close. Just take energy research: We will be investing around 3.5 billion euros before 2014. The German government’s change in energy policy is just the beginning.

And what are you planning?

The Federal Government will be presenting a national sustainability strategy this spring. The central question will be: How can we maintain our standard of living and still live in harmony with our resources? The Ministry of Education and Research is dedicating its traditional Science Year in 2012 to sustainability as well. Its motto is “PROJECT EARTH: Our Future.” With this we want to encourage citizens to reflect on their lives. This is part of a larger international framework; there’s an important UN conference in Rio this June concerning sustainable development. We all need answers to how we will feed ourselves in the future, how we can produce enough energy, how energy should be handled, and to issues of aging and urbanizing populations. Incidentally, China is also familiar with these challenges. And China has massively improved its efforts towards environmental protection.

Aren’t we dissipating our energy by engaging with China?

That would be oversimplifying! Sustainable thinking has to be global thinking. We can only face climate change and resource shortages together. The German-Chinese research and innovation programme “Clean Water” isn’t just supposed to secure the wellbeing of China and Germany. It should have a worldwide impact. Together with our Chinese partners, we can demonstrate how necessary effective water research and a sustainable water industry are.  We must together – on the basis of very concrete problems – develop superior technologies and transfer them into practical applications and products much more quickly than we have been. In research and education, China became a partner at eye level long ago.

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© 03/02/2015 00:10 Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung