Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Unlikely leader on climate rising

By He Jiankun (何建坤) and Nicholas Stern

In what some might consider a surprising development, China — currently the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide — is emerging as a global leader in climate policy as it seeks to build a cleaner and more efficient economy. China’s efforts to curb pollution and environmental destruction, while shifting to a more sustainable growth model, can provide valuable lessons for governments worldwide.

The first step toward sustainable economic growth is to recognize, as China’s leaders have, that pollution — produced largely through coal-fired power plants — is profoundly damaging citizens’ lives and livelihoods, particularly in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Moreover, greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change, the effects of which, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns, could prove devastating for all countries, with China highly vulnerable.

China is already the world’s largest oil importer and energy demand continues to increase rapidly. As a result, energy security has become a serious issue.

In this context, efforts to accelerate the shift of China’s growth model to one that is more innovative, inclusive, efficient and sustainable represents the only feasible way forward. Some progress has already been made — innovation is occurring rapidly and clear plans are being formed and implemented.

China is now the world’s largest investor in clean energy, with a record US$68 billion channeled toward the development of renewable energy sources in 2012 and another US$54 billion last year. Furthermore, its non-fossil energy resources more than doubled from 2005 to last year, while the carbon dioxide intensity of GDP fell by 28 percent. And China’s reliance on coal-based energy is decreasing.

However, much more needs to be done. Over the past eight years, China’s economy has grown by an average of 10 percent annually — a total increase of about 115 percent — leading to a 53 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Fortunately, China’s government recognizes the need to pursue more stable, higher-quality GDP growth. At the same time, given slower growth in world markets and the challenges of domestic structural adjustment, the annual growth target has been reduced to about 7.5 percent.

These structural adjustments are aimed at reducing China’s dependence on heavy industry and manufacturing exports while fostering domestic consumption, promoting higher-tech activities and improving the services sector. This shift will naturally bring about a decline in demand for energy-intensive raw materials like iron, steel and cement. At the same time, it will better equip China for the next stages of its development.

To support these efforts, China is to build generating stations that rely on natural gas, nuclear power and renewable energy sources. The government has already pledged US$286 billion to the development of renewable energy sources and US$376 billion to energy-conservation projects from 2011 through next year. Investment in coal-fired electricity generation has been shrinking year-on-year since 2005.

As a result, by 2020, China’s consumption of energy generated from sources other than fossil fuels should be roughly equivalent to Japan’s total energy consumption. Non-fossil-produced energy will comprise 15 percent of China’s overall energy mix, reaching 20 to 25 percent by 2030.

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