Mon, Jan 31, 2011 - Page 9 News List

China is becoming a clean-energy force

Last year, moves to combat greenhouse gas emissions seemed to slow. Recently, however, things seem to be picking up, with China leading the way

By James Kanter  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Illustration: Yusha

For years, China was seen as a major obstacle to global efforts to combat climate change because of its refusal to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

Now, for some, the concern is not that China is moving too slowly, but that it is rushing ahead so fast that clean-energy companies in the West will be left in the dust.

Demands on China for verifiable monitoring of emissions have been a long-running source of tension in climate negotiations. They helped to sour the mood at the UN climate meeting in Copenhagen a year ago, which broke up in acrimony after poorer countries balked at accepting limits on their emissions.

Heading into this year, however, there were some surprising signs of renewed movement in efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions.

A UN climate meeting last month in Mexico pleased many environmentalists by putting global talks back on track. And this month, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research group, reported that investors had injected a record US$243 billion into cleaner sources of energy last year as the rising price of oil gave a lift to the prospects for renewable and low-carbon alternatives.

With the gloomy atmosphere dissipating, organizers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said last week they expected that business leaders would be ready to pay attention again to climate issues.

The meeting in Mexico showed an “enhanced spirit of cooperation” on cutting emissions, said Caio Koch-Weser, who leads sustainability initiatives for the forum and is vice chairman of the Deutsche Bank Group.

And the clean-energy sector “has never been more dynamic than it is today,” he said.

However, along with such optimism, there is also mounting anxiety about which countries — and whose companies — will benefit from the clean-energy boom. As financially struggling governments in Europe and the US trim support for clean-energy development, emerging countries, led by China, have been pouring state resources into the sector.

China represents “a huge challenge” for established clean-energy businesses, said Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s commissioner for climate action. “We can never subsidize it as much as they would do in China.”

She said China was preparing a five-year plan that would be the clearest indication yet of its determination to become a clean-energy powerhouse.

European nations would need to “pool our efforts better” to remain competitive, said Hedegaard, who was expected to attend the forum.

Investment in clean energy in China rose 30 percent last year, to US$51.1 billion — by far the largest figure for a single country — and represented more than 20 percent of the total global investment of US$243 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

At the same time, the issue of clean-energy subsidies in China is at the heart of an investigation US President Barack Obama’s administration started last month. The administration is looking at bringing a case against China, including accusations about manufacturing subsidies for wind turbines, before the WTO.

This month, in what looked like a countermove, Obama signed a law that contained a “buy American” provision for US Department of Defense purchases of solar panels.

The European Commission has raised concerns with China about access to rare earth minerals and other elements used in clean-energy industries, including the manufacturing of electric cars, but so far, the commission has taken no formal action on trade in the wind and solar industries.

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