Thursday, June 11, 2009

Serious Green Growth

I've talked a few times now about the status of US/China talks before this coming winter's Copenhagen Climate Summit. What happens over the coming months is, indeed, going to have major ramifications on the future of the planet.

I stumbled across an excellent report from The Center for American Progress by Julian Wong and Andrew Light from last week detailing what China is already doing and has already done with regards its development of clean energy.

Here is the opening section of the report:

A common refrain from climate action naysayers is that, "China is building two coal-fired power plants a week!" They insist that the United States should wait until this major emitter takes on binding commitments to climate change mitigation before it decides to adopt global warming pollution reduction policies in the American Climate and Energy Security Act (H.R. 2454). They "further claim that if such a bill became law, the United States would be transferring its jobs to countries such as China and India that are doing nothing to curb emissions. But that thinking is exactly wrong.

Critics fairly point to the fact that 80 percent of China’s power is derived from dirty coal, and that China recently surpassed the United States as the word’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Yet China’s per capita emissions remain a fifth that of the United States, and its historical cumulative per capita emissions from 1960 to 2005 are less than one-tenth that of the United States.

Still, the Chinese have recognized that it’s climate inaction—not climate legislation—that will lead to its own economic undoing. As the U.S. Congress debates the merits of enacting renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, China has already forged ahead with building its own low-carbon economy, laying the foundation for clean-energy jobs and innovation.

China ranked second in the world in 2007 in terms of the absolute dollar amount invested in renewable energy, according to the Climate Group. It spent $12 billion, which put it just behind Germany’s $14 billion. These investments have placed China among the world leaders in solar, wind, electric vehicle, rail, and grid technologies. And now approximately 9 percent of China’s $586 billion economic stimulus package will go toward sustainable development (excluding rail and grid) projects.

China is expected to unveil in the coming weeks another extensive and unprecedented stimulus package—reported to be in the range of $440 billion to $660 billion—dedicated solely to new energy development over the next decade, including generous investments in wind, solar, and hydropower. If those expectations are fulfilled, China could emerge as the unquestioned global leader in clean-energy production, significantly increasing its chances to wean its energy appetite off coal, and at the same time ushering in an era of sustainable economic growth by exporting these clean-energy technologies to the world.

The bottom line: China is not there yet, but it is beginning to transition to a clean-energy economy through a wide range of actions. The United States should recognize China’s efforts and encourage China to expand upon them. We have sketched this claim before, but let’s run though the numbers in more detail.

Read On or Download the .pdf of the Memo
I encourage everyone reading this to click through on this link and check out what Wong and Light highlight that China has done. It is well-referenced and very insightful.

In my three years of blogging on China, I've gone on countless rants about how awful China's environmental degradation is. It is astounding. But there is obviously more than meets the eye when it comes to China's handling of its unprecedented environmental issues.

There is an interesting story about a speech Thomas Friedman gave a couple years ago in a recent Guardian article about China and its response to climate change:
Visiting China a couple of years ago, the American journalist Thomas Friedman conceded that, when it came to climate change, his hosts had a point. Yes, the west had grown rich using dirty old coal and oil, and the Chinese had the right to do the same. "Take your time!" he told a conference in Tianjin. "Because I think my country needs ... five years to invent all the clean power and energy efficiency tools that you, China, will need to avoid choking on pollution and then we are going to come over and sell them ... to you." It took a few moments for his words to be translated and land in delegates' headphones - and for the ripple of consternation to spread around the hall.

Two years on, Mr Friedman's lesson - that clean energy can be profitable rather than a costly drag - has not only been learned by the Chinese; now Beijing is intent on writing the rest of the textbook.

Read On
While the world needs to avoid blowing up another bubble, investment in the development of green energy technologies could be an excellent way to get through the financial crisis. China gets this. America doesn't.

China, with billions upon billions set to be invested in green technologies, is serious about doing something in the face of the climate change challenge. Will America change its traditional stance on the climate change issue and treat clean-energy develoment seriously? The answer to this question appears far from certain.

I like the conclusion of the report posted above:
What makes the above list of actions by China all the more impressive is that the country’s leaders decided to act unilaterally even though its per capita GDP and per capita emissions, both historical and present, remain a fraction of the United States'. China hasn’t done so out of charity, but out of recognition that doing so is both critical to its national security and a huge opportunity for future economic prosperity.

Sure, China can do more. But we can create a much more constructive platform for forging a consensus in Copenhagen or forming the basis for a bilateral agreement with China on climate change by acknowledging and understanding the effects of the full range of China’s climate actions outside of its lack of hard caps on carbon emissions. A more extensive analysis should quiet the naysayers on Capitol Hill that use the false excuse of Chinese inaction to block the passage of the historic climate and energy bill in the U.S. Congress.
China isn't getting serious about developing clean-energy to cover its share of the climate crisis or out of kindness. China's stepping up for selfish financial reasons. If America can't wrap its head around this idea, then it deserves to be passed up by the Chinese in the coming decades because it will be blowing a huge economic opportunity (as well as a chance to, you know, save the planet, but that's not important).


Anonymous said...

Love this entry today. The last major recession here in the states was in 1992 (the dot com bust in 2000 was too localized) and it was the internet revolution that brought us out of it and into an era of great prosperity. I personally think it will be the energy revolution that will do the same this time and on a global basis.

I am so glad to see China going this route and abandoning that whole mantra regarding prosperity over environmental protection. Certainly not only is being green cleaner, but it is also going to make the country who takes the lead in this, very wealthy and I love that comment made by Friedman. Not to mention the healthcare savings when your enormous population doesn't develop respiratory problems from breathing dirty air.

As gas and home energy prices continue to rise, being green isn't some fashion statement but a smart economic move not only for governments but for individuals. I saw a news story a few months back about a guy powering his whole home with a small windmill like this and even creating a surplus which he sells back to the power company. His little windmill not only gives him free power, but a little additional income. People always argue about solar power not being good because its not always sunny and that sometime there is no wind for the mills, but I am hoping to see hybrid homes where there is a combination of traditional and green techs that mute these arguments.

Long winded again, sorry, but one last thing. Why isn't that slogan on the wall in Chinese?? Almost seems like it was for the benefit of english speaking countries around the world.

Ramesh said...

Very nice post Mark. One of the nice things about China is that once they are convinced something is right to do - they act. They implement at breathtaking speed. They'll make rapid strides and lead the world on cleaner energy. Unfortunately that can't be said about the next emerging great polluter - India.

Vrani said...

Who says American can't wrap its head around new, clean, efficient technologies?!?! GM is taking us there right now!

Mark said...

Thanks for the great comments, guys.

Don't worry about being long-winded, Hopfrog. Your comments are always worthwhile.

India certainly is going to be an interesting contrast to China, Ramesh. As you say, a change in thinking might not be so easily achieved.

Vrani, I'd love to watch that video, but YouTube is still blocked! ARGH!!!