Urban Innovation in China | Ecological Transformation in Guangdong, the Industrial Powerhouse: Balancing Afforestation with Smart Green Development

2024-06-06 17:02:43

Recently, the extreme heat in India hit the headlines, highlighting the increasing pressure on the environment and the urgent need to cool down the planet. As the 53rd World Environment Day approaches, balancing economic development with environmental protection has become a crucial issue.

As an industrial powerhouse, Guangdong is exploring new solutions. As of last year, Guangdong supported about 9% of the national population and 10.7% of the economy with only 6.7% of the national energy consumption and 5% of carbon emissions. Behind this Guangdong model, where economic growth and green construction are trending towards synchronization, lies a long-term exploration.

Over the past forty years, Guangdongs forest area has increased from 113.7 million acres in 1985 to 235.6 million acres in 2023, and its forest coverage rate has doubled from 27.70% to 53.03%. Moreover, the air quality in Guangdong has continuously improved, with an AQI compliance rate of 94.8%, and both per capita and unit GDP carbon emissions have shown a clear downward trend.

These data reflect Guangdongs efforts to promote ecological progress. For years, Guangdong has been expanding greenery while strictly controlling high energy-consuming and high-polluting industries.

In Guangdong, the idea that diversion is better than blocking is becoming clearer. Especially with technological advancements, traditional industries like ceramics and petrochemicals are shedding their labels of high energy consumption and pollution. AI models are rapidly accelerating their entry into factories and workshops, regulating energy use in production and bringing new definitions to energy conservation and carbon reduction in the digital era.

Synchronizing Green Construction with Industrial Transformation

In the early days of reform and opening up, Guangdong, as an industrial province, had a forest coverage rate of less than 30%, inadequate for purification and carbon sequestration. Meanwhile, rapidly expanding traditional industries continuously consumed energy, making the Pearl River Delta one of the top three key regions for air pollution prevention in the country.


In response, Guangdong quickly launched afforestation actions. Early last year, the Decision on Deeply Promoting the Green and Beautiful Guangdong Ecological Construction (referred to as the Decision) was issued by the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee, sparking a wave of ecological construction across the province.

In Wuhua County, Meizhou, the ox liver soil, covering over 72,484 acres and accounting for 9.06% of the area, posed significant challenges for afforestation. To address this, Wuhua established an experimental base and invested over 50 million yuan in management efforts. In recent years, Wuhua has optimized 8,615 acres of forest stand optimization and nurtured 12,454 acres. By 2035, the county plans to complete a precise forest quality improvement of 164,736 acres.

Two years ago, Fengkai County in Zhaoqing launched the One Village, Thousand Trees project, introducing economically beneficial seedlings into rural marginal, abandoned, barren, and roadside lands. This not only greened the barren slopes but also revitalized idle rural resources, bringing income and employment to villagers.

Given the significant uncertainties in forestry development, Guangdong has actively leveraged financial tools to support green construction. For example, Shaoguan explored innovative financial services from forest rights mortgages to green expected revenue guarantees, breaking the last mile of forestry financing. Last year, the first national reserve forest project in Jiangmen secured 547 million yuan in policy loan support.

To date, Guangdong has invested 4.07 billion yuan in building 193 demonstration sites for green and beautiful ecological construction. According to “The Decision”, Guangdong aims to respectively complete 1.65 million acres of forest optimization and enhancement by 2027.

On this basis, Guangdong has developed a diversified under-forest economy”, extending from primary industries combining planting and breeding to secondary and tertiary industries like forest product processing, tourism, health care, and science education. Examples include forestry plus medicinal herbs in Luhe County, Shanwei, bamboo forest plus bamboo fungus in Zhaoqing, and coupling agarwood and nut planting in Dianbai, Maoming, and Yangchun, Yangjiang, achieving both green construction and economic benefits.

On the other hand, Guangdong is also reducing pollution and emissions from the industrial source. The “Action Plan for Continuous Improvement of Environment and Air Quality in Guangdong Province (2021-2025) proposes strict control over new projects in high energy-consuming and high-polluting industries, implementing green industrial transformation, and prohibiting new or expanded projects in cement, flat glass, chemical pulping, raw leather tanning, and non-nationally planned steel and crude oil processing in the Pearl River Delta region.


At the Haihong Ceramics Factory in Chaozhou, the firing temperature of the adjusted formula material has dropped from 1350°C to 1250°C. With the decrease in temperature, we directly save 30% of the energy, said He Jiahong, the relevant person in charge of the companyto a reporter from Southern Finance Omnimedia Corp.

Haihong Ceramics is just one example of Guangdong breaking the stereotype of high energy consumption. Through industrial transformation, Guangdongs approach to environmental improvement has shifted from blocking” to diversion”.

Currently, the concentration of six major air pollutants in Guangdong has fully met standards for nine consecutive years. The Pearl River Delta has exited the list of the top three key regions for air pollution prevention in the country and is moving towards establishing a demonstration area for air quality improvement in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Digital Intelligence Empowering Energy Conservation and Carbon Reduction

Opening the website of Towngas Smart Energy, a Hong Kong-based company in Shenzhen, the phrase Doing our best to heal the fevered Earth catches the eye.

In recent years, this company has extended from its initial gas business to new fields such as renewable energy, green power sales, and zero-carbon solutions. To date, the company has promoted the construction of over a thousand smart energy projects and 124 zero-carbon smart parks across the country.

As an energy service provider, the growth path of Towngas reflects the transformation and upgrading of Guangdongs approach to ecological protection and industrial development. Guangdong is promoting energy conservation and carbon reduction through more comprehensive and technologically advanced means.

On one hand, the province is accelerating the development of low-carbon, environmentally friendly renewable energy. From the giant wind turbines on the mountains of Ruyuan, Shaoguan, to the 18,000 square meters of photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Libai factory in Nansha, Guangzhou, the proportion of new energy in Guangdongs energy structure is increasing. As of May this year, Guangdongs new energy installed capacity has reached 50.7 million kilowatts, accounting for 25.3% of the total, equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by over 96 million tons annually.

The development of new energy has also stimulated green power trading. In 2023, Guangdongs green power trading volume reached 3.97 billion kWh, a year-on-year increase of 158%. Previously, Towngas also established a subsidiary, Towngas (Shenzhen) Green Power Co., Ltd., which has provided one-stop services from green power generation, trading to consumption for many enterprises through joint ventures with power generation companies and self-owned photovoltaic power stations.

On the other hand, Guangdong is increasingly leveraging digital intelligence to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. By connecting to AI, the operating status and energy use of equipment are captured, predicted, and regulated in real-time, thus improving energy use efficiency.


In the Guangzhou Honda Zengcheng plant, air compressor stations and centrifugal machines are connected to AI cloud control, achieving real-time calculation of each equipments efficiency level. This prioritizes the operation of more efficient equipment and unifies two separate stations from a data perspective, establishing a model of the whole stations gas production efficiency, and optimizing the coordination of different equipment. After digital transformation, the two air compressor stations of Guangzhou Honda can save 2.42 million kWh of electricity annually, reducing carbon emissions by 1,278 tons.

Behind these cases, Guangdong Mogulinker Technology Co., Ltd. is focusing on transforming auxiliary workshops in industrial enterprises. Data shows that in the manufacturing sector, auxiliary workshops, as energy hubs of factories, account for 40% to 60% of the total energy consumption. Mogulinker targets this area for energy-saving potential.

Lin Jing, Assistant President and General Manager of the Strategic Development Department at Mogulinkerbelieves that if the goal of carbon peaking and carbon neutrality is like a test paper, all industrial enterprises are test-takers, facing different challenges and playing different roles.

In 2023, Mogulinker introduced the AI large model into the industrial energy-saving field, launching the first AI large model in the general industrial equipment sector—Lingzhi AI. In the future, it will combine static professional knowledge and dynamic on-site conditions for predictive control and fault diagnosis. Currently, Mogulinker has served over 5,000 industrial enterprises, with more than 200,000 industrial devices connected to its platform, saving nearly 1.8 billion kWh of electricity nationwide and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 800,000 tons.

Author: Ding Li, 21st Century Business Herald Reporter