Look at China! Cindy's blog Nov 30 2107
Lately I have been surprised by the news that China is shaping up to be the leading country in fighting climate change. I have never pictured China as a country that would be conscious of sustainability-it just seemed too crowded and too busy. Today that is not the case and I thought that since I might not be the only one that has thought this way, I would bring you up to date on some of the initiatives that China has taken on. China has come so far so fast that many people are unaware of how much progress it has made, from investing in renewable energy to tackling air pollution.
I should add here that since China is the world’s largest emitter of pollution it seems right that they would also be the largest investor in sustainable infrastructure.
China has recognized not only the serious risks of unmanaged climate change, to which it is very vulnerable, but also the great attractions of an alternative path for growth which is cleaner, more efficient, innovative and dynamic. In its most recent five-year development plan it reflected profound changes to its economic strategy that incorporate sustainable development. On the global stage, Beijing’s support was indispensable to the success of the Paris climate negotiations and it is moving quickly to implement its pledges under the resulting agreement. How crazy that China stepped up to the plate and the US reneged!. Air pollution isn’t the only reason China is so serious about renewables, but it’s a powerful one.
China is leaving the rest of the world behind on clean energy. Presently it is home to five of the top six solar panel manufacturers and five of the top 10 wind turbine makers. In 2016, it invested $88bn in renewable energy, the highest in the world. It is building capacity at an astonishing speed, installing on average more than one new wind turbine every hour. Every hour, China erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field, according to Greenpeace estimates. There is now compelling evidence that China’s coal consumption peaked in 2014. In the future, it should make sure that coal is not given priority over renewables on the grid. Over the long term, new coal plants simply do not make sense for it in terms of public health, the environment or the economy.
China’s cities — home to more than 750m people — are already at the forefront of the government’s climate priorities. It is acting fast to address the deadly smog that is making headlines: poor air quality is killing more than 1.6m Chinese each year. It is designing better cities, investing in new public transport and improving energy efficiency. This new urban agenda could dramatically raise quality of life while reducing air pollution and emissions.
China is exploring new, innovative financial vehicles to finance the low carbon transition. Its emerging green bonds market could deliver about $230bn for renewable energy investment in the next five years. Those parts of the financial sector that are not explicitly green are also making changes. The People’s Bank of China has proposed mandatory disclosure of climate-related financial risks as part of reforms to make its banking system sustainable.
Beijing is set to implement the world’s largest emissions trading system later this year. It will expand its seven pilot carbon trading systems to the national level. If the price levels are high enough, it will create strong incentives worldwide.
China’s foreign investment could play a big role in tipping the balance towards a greener global economy. In 2016, it spent a record $32bn on renewable projects abroad, made up of 11 new foreign investment deals worth more than $1bn each. It is also rethinking its approach to international coal finance. One hopes it will keep its promise to cut back on the tens of billions of dollars it has spent funding coal projects overseas, which contribute to air pollution and health impacts elsewhere.
Wealthier nations that once used China as an excuse for their own inaction are now watching it zoom past them to become a global climate leader. China’s role in the energy sector must always be understood in terms of its sheer size: the change may come slowly, but when it does, it is often titanic in scale. In 2017, the world will be watching to see what China does next in the spirit of global co-operation. I look forward to having my opinion changed about China’s attitude about climate change and will watch to see how the US and Canada plan to catch up! I will mention here that close behind China in renewables is India, more surprises… another blog on that later.
With help from Nicholas Stern from the Financial Times.