China: the global superpower of green -

China: the global superpower of green

Despite its image as a climate change villain, China has emerged as the world’s clean energy leader

Superpower of green

Siu Chiu/Reuters

Last year, China walked away from the Copenhagen climate change summit as a villain. It had shot down any attempts to introduce binding carbon emission targets. Chinese diplomats even insisted on taking off the table emission cuts meant only for advanced economies, reportedly sending then-Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd banging his microphone on the table as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her arms up in despair.

Yet, for all the anger it provoked, China is now the world’s leader in green energy investment. Beyond the pollution and the black smoke rising from its coal plants, there are labs working on advanced battery technology, manufacturing plants pumping out solar panels, and fields of wind turbines. Five years ago, China pledged to cut emissions by 10 per cent, and by the end of 2010, it announced it had reached the target. In 2009, China shelled out $34.4 billion for clean energy, nearly double the $18.5 billion spent by the United States, and more than 10 times what Canada forked out, according to the Pew Charitable Trust, a non-profit based in Washington. In short, “China won this round of the race for clean energy,” says Ang Li, a Greenpeace campaigner based in Beijing. And, she adds, the country is well-positioned to become the next superpower of green.

Since 2006, Beijing has been sending a “stable political signal to develop clean energy,” says Li. But the politburo’s drive to plant windmills and set up solar panels is not a crusade against global warming—China is still the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The government’s main concern is energy security, says Dickon Pinner, a partner at McKinsey and Company, a consulting firm. Faced with the scenario that its energy demands will double by 2030, Chinese officials are scrambling to promote efficiency and diversify away from coal, which now accounts for 70 per cent of the country’s energy supply. The push for green energy is also part of China’s effort to develop global leaders in high-growth, technology-intensive sectors, says Pinner. Finally, Chinese leaders seem to care little about things like the health of polar bears and the state of the ice caps, but Pinner says that they are eager to alleviate domestic water and air pollution.

While long-term energy regulation has created fertile ground for growth in the sector, China’s green industry has flourished thanks to a generous showering of public money. And Beijing’s investments have dwarfed anything seen in the West. The U.S. devoted $37.8 billion of its 2009 stimulus package to green energy projects. China’s green stimulus that year was $220 billion. If Americans, who have a median income of about $52,000 a year, buy an electric car, they get $7,470 from Uncle Sam; when Chinese consumers, whose average income is about $861 in the countryside and $3,153 in cities, buy one, they get $8,760 from the government, which, according to McKinsey, can add up with local government incentives to as much as $20,000. Coming on top of low manufacturing costs, state subsidies have also made China the world’s leading exporter of solar photovoltaic panels, solar water heaters, and wind turbines.

But China’s rise to the top of the green rankings is also the result of declining investment in the U.S. and Europe. U.S. clean energy investment plunged 40 per cent in 2009 compared to the previous year; in Spain it was down more than 50 per cent. In part, the slowdown reflected the impact of the economic crisis, which depressed overall energy demand, dried up credit markets and dug deep into state coffers, says Evan Juska, senior policy manager at the Climate Group, an international organization that encourages businesses and governments to cut emissions.

Though America still accounts for the largest share of private investment in green industry, frustration at Congress’s inability to pass overarching regulation on climate change has venture capitalists contemplating mass emigration. “They’re asleep at the wheel on climate change,” Kevin Parker, head of Deutsche Bank’s asset management division, told Reuters last summer. “You just throw your hands up and say, we’re going to take our money elsewhere,” he added.

“Elsewhere” mostly means China. And along with investors, many Western green-tech businesses have set up shop there, too. But clean energy enterprises settling in China often run up against obstacles. Non-Chinese businesses are mostly barred from competing for lucrative public contracts and face provincial governments keen on propping up local industry. It doesn’t help that protection of intellectual property rights is still lax.

Still, there are signs of U.S.-Chinese co-operation. The two countries have already poured $149 million into a joint Clean Energy Research Center, funded in equal parts, based on both sides of the Pacific and featuring researchers working side by side on projects including energy efficient buildings, green cars and clean coal. It might be a first step toward turning the race for green into a team game.

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China: the global superpower of green

  1. Once again, the Chinese are showing they're paying attention. There's a reason they'll be the next super-power.. and things like this and their food policies are part of it.

    Meanwhile, our governments have wasted a huge opportunity to get to the forefront of green energy while we still have cheap non-green energy to power our efforts.

    • Hook, line & sinker.

      • A fine example of western ignorance and arrogance. Congratulations.

  2. Fascinating. We should never ever underestimate China – and yet, our government does.

  3. Not to rain on the parade of this article, but this is what China's energy mix looks like:
    Coal: 71%
    Oil: 19%
    Hydro: 6%
    Natural gas: 3%
    Nuclear: 1%
    Other renewables: 0.2%

    Any increase in green energy production has been more than made up for by the massive increases in energy consumption in China each year.

    This notion that the future will be dominated by green technology is an idiotic fantasy. In Spain and the Czech Republic massive state investments in green technology resulted in bubbles, not in sound energy mixes. Cheap solar and wind technology will probably happen, but not anytime soon. Of course we already have green technology – its called nuclear.

    • Now that is the truth of the matter. Numbers don't lie. 0.2 % at a cost of 34 Billion. Imagine the cost to get to 25%. Can you say unsustainable? Within a decade these projects will disappear.

      • "Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments," Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus, A.D. 10.

        "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction".
        — Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

        Dr. Dionysius Lardner (1793 – 1859) didn't believe that trains could contribute much in speedy transport. He wrote: "Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers ' would die of asphyxia' ."

        Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Atomic Bomb Project.
        The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.

        "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
        — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

        "640K ought to be enough for anybody."
        — Bill Gates, 1981

        • Thank you for this. It's people like West Newf and hosertohoosier that make us fall further and further behind.

          Also, if you truly believe nuclear is green, you should do some research about how long the byproduct of the reaction takes to breakdown and the havoc it can cause (Chernobyl?).

          • Yes, nuclear is yet another 'quick fix' we don't want.

          • Please expand on your concerns about nuclear power.

          • You need an explanation on the dangers of nuclear waste??

          • Yes, please expand.

            My recommendation is to continue to stockpile the waste for another few decades. At the same time we should keep on developing the technologies that will allow us to reuse that waste and get yet another 2% or 3% or 5% of the total available energy out of that resource.

          • Thanks.

            In summary, nuclear power creates a waste stream that needs to be and is being handled.

            Better than fossil fuels, who continue to dump their wastes into the commons.

          • No, it's not being handled. We have tons of nuclear waste already, and no way to deal with it.

            Last solution was to put it into the Canadian shield….which is certainly the commons.

          • The Wiki article had a section that describes different alternatives to deal with the waste.

            Yes, the shield is the commons, but it isn't at all like releasing emissions into lakes and/or rivers, or the atmosphere. A tiny portion of the Canadian shield would be set aside for long term storage. That portion of the shield that would be "lost" to public use isn't actually available for public use right now.

          • None of which work.

            And no, we don't want any deep storage in the shield left around for future generations.

            Nuclear waste consisting of spent fuel bundles from Candu reactors is now stored at nine reactor sites, primarily in Ontario but also in Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba. The spent fuel is stored either in pools of water to cool down the radioactive elements, or in dry storage for older bundles.

            At the end of 2004, there were some two million spent fuel bundles in storage at reactor sites across the country, containing nearly 36,000 tonnes of uranium.

            The report said it would take 60 years for the waste to be "cool" enough to permanently sequester it underground

          • None of which work? That's not what the article indicates.

            You might not want any deep storage in the shield, but in time many others will readily accept it.

            Two million sounds like a lot, but its not really all that many items, (they are fairly small).

            As well, 36,000 tonnes also sounds like a lot of material, but it really isn't a lot of material. If you compare any of those numbers to the mass of CO2 or flyash or heavy metals released from coal fired power plants, this amount of material is tiny.

            Sixty years sounds like a long time….OTOH, some of the nuclear waste must already be getting close to 40 years old, so another 20 years will fly by.

          • Why no, it sounds like a lot but it's not.

            And it sounds like a long time, but it's not.

            And magic occurs everyday.

            Thousands of years….it'll fly by in an instant…and never cause a problem

            Nuclear plants aren't the future….costs too much, takes too long, and the waste piles up.

          • Twenty years will fly by in an instant, 1000's of years will take longer…

            Nuclear plants are actually cheaper than many of the competing technologies.

            Yes, the waste piles up, and that is because nuclear power has been (rightfully) made to capture and deal with ALL of its waste. Unlike, for example, coal plants in Canada, which emit 36,000 tonnes of waste into the environment within a year, if not a day, dependant on which emissions you want to classify as waste.

            And the accumulated waste pile is tiny.

            OK, I'm probably going to stop now…I have enjoyed this sharing of views, but we are not so likely to get anything new onto the table on this topic.


          • I know boosters are keen on a nuclear renaissance, but it doesn't sell nor is it likely to.

          • Look up Thorium Reactors on Google and see the future of nuclear energy. It is a reactor that produces very little, if any, waste and can actually "eat" old waste if you put them through the reactor. Once Thorium Reactors start coming online (China has already built and is testing a prototype) then all those stockpiles of waste from the old Uranium Reactors could be gone in the next 50 years or so.

          • So why did Harper sell off AECL with some of the foremost technology in the world?

          • Couldn’t we just send that nuclear waste into the Sun in a few more years when taking off is safer?

          • It's really not fair to group h to h with WN…..on there may be some surface similarities regarding this particular article, but in overall terms h to h is a contributor that has a lot to offer folks who visit this site.

          • Chernobyl is not really all that relevant to today's nuclear power industry, especially the non-USSR industry.

          • We have nuclear incidents around the world all the time….last week there was one in Michigan.

          • Yes, nuclear incidents happen around the world, possibly even as frequently every day.

            But I wasn't talking about that type of nuclear incident. I'm saying that what happened in Chernobyl isn't particularly relevant to the nuclear power industry outside of the old USSR vintage nuclear fleet.

          • Well, I wasn't talking about Chernobyl, but of course it's relevant. Lots of power plants in the world, in all manner of countries….more coming online all the time. Sooner or later we'll have another biggie.

          • You do realize that comparing the safety features of the Chernobyl reactor to the safety features of nuclear plants that will be built in the next decade is sort of like comparing the safety features of your parents Pinto to the new Volvo that you bought last year. (And equating the Chernobyl reactor to the Pinto is being generous to the Chernobyl reactor.)

            But sure, there could be an incident some day, possibly even with some fatalities….there are risks. I'm sure you agree that EVERYTHING we do has risks. What we should be doing is trying to get the best possible risk data that we can get, and then using that data, along with some other criteria, to decide what energy sources we will use over the next decades.

            I'm confident that on that basis nuclear power will do very well, but I am certainly prepared to support other sources if a rational set of criteria shows that they score better than nukes.

          • And the nuclear plants in third world countries are perfectly safe, right?


          • Those that were built using the Chernobyl design would be high risk, indeed.

            Those that were built with any other design (eg Candu) will be relatively safe, yes.

            Perfectly safe? No, not at all. Nothing we do or build or use in this world is perfectly safe. As I said, regarding safety, it is all about recognizing and assessing actual risks, and then making appropriate decisions on the basis of that information.

          • No, all of life is a risk.

            But there are some things riskier than others

            Risk assessment is the key

          • Do you have a link? I Goggled, and nothing relevant came up….but I'm a self-confessed interweb search amateur.

          • Thanks.

            On the quasi-Richter scale, that incident seems to be about a 2.5. Which does mean that (in my view, at least) an investigation needs to be completed to confirm that the safety systems involved did perform as intended and also to identify the root cause of the condenser leak.

        • research is one thing, spending billions on alternative eenergy you already know is too expensive is just stupid.

          • Well others are making millions on alternative energy. Since you obviously aren't, we know where your problem lies.

  4. That is refreshing news !

    • News?

  5. The sunshine blowing from this article could power one their solar plants, did their embassy just hand over a press release and the author put her name on it?

  6. Codswallop!

  7. Open refuse flowing into rivers causing deformation of the local children?

    No problem, just buy some "carbon credits" as pennance to Gaia and you're good to go.

    • Carbon markets are the latest attempt to inflate prices in a fake commodity market and profit before the inevitable bubble collapses. Wonderfully succinct description of all that is wrong with "green capitalism" nonsense.

  8. China is now a world leader in green tech…and we aren't even trying to play catch-up…we've missed it altogether, and don't even realize it.

    How the west was lost.

  9. The Chinese are doing it the right way, for themselves and their future. The pretense of leftist greenies is that they do everything for the betterment of the world, while the Chinese look inward and do what's good for themselves. Greenies, it isn't a crime to be honest with yourself.

    The other element here is that the Chinese also see a market among suckers in the west for green technology, regardless of whether or not they work. America first subsidized solar energy in 1891 and now, 120 years later, it's still subsidized, meaning that it's still not ready for prime time as a product that can hold it's own in the marketplace.

    Urban intellectual condo environmentalists should try putting a shovel to dirt sometime and growing an organic garden. Maybe then they'd feel an actual connection to the planet and being to think and act rationally.

    • For the world, for themselves….they are the same thing.

      And if you don't want to make a killing on green tech, it's your loss.

      Oh yeah, digging in dirt and planting a carrot beats real knowledge every time, right?

  10. those of us who are concerned about preserving our planet for future generations are already aware of what China and other countries are doing. We cringe at our country falling so far behind. I hope our descendants will forgive us and have where-with-all to recover, if it's not too late.

    • apparently you are not aware of what other countries are doing. How much have they spent on promoting unaffordable energy alternatives in europe? How much will these curtail climate change? What is the cost to reverse climate change by any measure? How much of climate change is produced by the sun? Why did the gang at east anglia lie to make their "scientific data" look better than it was? You ignorant twit. You can spend your money on pie in the sky socialist fairy tales but I will not be forced to support your madness.

      • wow. archie bunker, in full command of his la-z-boy, spouting vitriole.

  11. Yeah, right and they are also moving quickly on the human rights front too. China is increasing their carbon footprint by Canada's footprint size every 18 months with no sign of slowing down. Cheap labour can facilitate some savings but being leader in green energy investment sounds like a poor investment to me. We have seen hundreds of billions wasted in europe creating very expensive energy alternatives that are unaffordable. Let;s face it, there is no other cheap source of ebergy other than fossil fuels at this time. Research is one thing, forcing us to live with outrageously expensive green energy with no guarantee of changing the climate one iota is beyond ignorance. Unless of course it is not your money you are spending. How arrogant of Kevin Parker to suggest they will take their money somewhere else. Who's money? The eco nuts are still pushing the same thing. Research is one thing but there will be a revolt if Canadians are taxed even more for heating their homes to support marxist ideological quackery.

    • That is why Germany has the strongest economy in the world because of all of that expensive unaffordable green energy they use.

  12. "Five years ago, China pledged to cut emissions by 10 per cent, and by the end of 2010, it announced it had reached the target."

    Ya right. Only fools, morons and avid greenie Believers in the Al Gore Church of Hysterical Gloabal Warming ACKKK We Are All Gonna Die believe this claim.

    China also claims to have high standards for Human Rights and some people believe that whopper too.

  13. I really don’t like the word “villain”.