China has created for itself an environmental mess, there is absolutely no beating around that bush. Smog in Beijing is so atrocious it has literally broken the air-quality index, and Shanghai is not much better. Meanwhile, and no one quite knows why yet, thousands of dead pigs have been floating down a river that passes through Shanghai and provides much of the region’s drinking water. It is a fact that more than half of China’s water is so badly polluted that even heavy duty treatment plants fail in making it drinkable. Add to that that China is now responsible for almost half the world’s coal consumption, which not only contributes to climate change, but is a large cause of China’s severe cases of acid rain, and you pretty much have an environmental disaster.
So what is China willing to do about this? Being such a huge contributor to global pollution (especially when it comes to CO2 emissions), it has been noted that it almost doesn’t matter what environmental actions the US takes, if China does not get on board.
Well, China already is on board in a number of ways that the United States isn’t. Here are some examples of aggressive measures that they are currently trying to take:
1. China is launching an ambitious cap-and-trade plan.
China has moved forward with pilot cap-and-trade systems covering seven regions, including the manufacturing hub provinces of Guangdong and Hubei, as well as the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shenzhen. By 2020, the government intends to link those regional systems into a national carbon market. In addition, the governments of China and Australia announced their plan to link the two countries’ carbon markets into a regional one.
2. China announced an upcoming carbon tax.
Whereas the U.S. Senate recently voted down an amendment that would have opened the way to a carbon tax, Chinese officials have announced their intent to implement a tax on CO2 emissions starting in 2015 or 2016.
3. China invests much more than the US on renewable energy.
In 2012, the United States spent $35 billion on renewable energy—down 37 percent from $56 billion in 2011. China spent $65 billion on renewable energy in 2012.
4. China dominates in solar production
Not even 20 years ago, the United States was a heavy hitter in solar production, producing nearly 40 percent of the solar panels produced worldwide, whereas China manufactured less than 1 percent. Now Chinese companies produce more than half the solar panels manufactured internationally, while the US makes less than 10 percent.
5. China second in solar power use worldwide
China not only makes a lot of solar power equipment, but they also put it to use. In 2012, the only country in the world that installed more solar power for itself was Germany (third was Italy, and the US came in fourth).
6. China loves wind power
The energy source most commonly associated with China is CO2-intensive dirty coal. China does in fact burn almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. But signs show that this could be changing; in 2012, in China, wind power growth was more than double that of coal power growth in China. When ranked against other countries, China comes in first place in terms of the total amount of wind-generating capacity installed.
7. China’s leaders are on board
Whereas the US is still debating whether or not climate change is real, the conversation in China is not whether to take action or not, but how to best tackle the problem. The Chinese government is filled with scientists and engineers. New President Xi Jinping was trained as a chemical engineer, while his predecessor, Hu Jintao, held a degree in hydraulic engineering, and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was schooled in electrical engineering. Last year, Xi Jinping went on the record to say that “global climate change is deeply affecting human beings’ lives and development”.
So while what China is doing still isn’t nearly enough to directly stop climate change, they do have massive influence to drive green technology worldwide by affecting price. Governments, industry, and consumers often choose whatever source of is the least expensive. China, by moving toward cap-and-trade and a carbon tax, is seeking to affect cost. And by driving both the manufacturing and deployment of renewable energy, China’s green technology investment is also fueling a tremendous amount of research and development, further helping to drive down the price of equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines.
When that price gets low enough—through whatever combination of innovation and market-correcting policies get us there—the whole world may be encouraged to shift its behavior thanks to China’s present and future efforts.
How is the pollution where you live? What measures are being taken to correct the problem?