While we all worry that the US is about to take a back seat on climate change and even renege on recent important agreements, China is all set to become a global leader in clean energy.
When President Trump was still President-Elect back in November, another important meeting, the COP22, took place in Marrakesh. There, a Chinese foreign minister told the gathered delegates that any sign of US cooling to the climate change agenda would not be followed by his country.
Combatting climate change is not just key to saving the planet, according to China, it’s a great opportunity to make money and become a world leader in renewable and other low carbon alternatives. China, unlike the current US administration, see this as the future.
According to the Guardian back in November:
“When the news of Donald Trump’s electoral college victory set cell phones beeping at a private climate change discussion in Beijing, one of China’s leading climate policy experts observed that China should now expect to assume climate leadership.”
What’s Great About China?
You may think that it’s the pollution capital of the world, particularly if you listen to all news reports. Yes, they do have a big air problem in their major cities. But China is planning to invest some $361 billion in renewable energy. The ambitious plan they have set out will create 13 million jobs across the country and reflects the country’s commitment to weaning themselves off fossil fuel dependence for good. A lot of that effort is going to be pushed into solar, with China looking to expand 5 times their current capacity. That’s the equivalent of building 1,000 major solar plants according to Reuter’s.
A lot of this is being driven by the lowering of costs. Solar installations have come down by nearly 40% in the last 6 to 7 years. It’s not all good news though. Even if things go to plan, renewables would still only make up for about 15% of China’s power by 2020. They still have a huge coal infrastructure which needs to be rolled back and that’s difficult for a country this size, where many regions depend on the fuel for their energy needs.
Some argue that the US moving away from the climate change agenda might well damage our future irreparably. But there are others who believe that it could stimulate the renewable revolution to even greater heights.
Despite the enthusiasm for the Paris agreement a couple of years ago, where many world leaders finally came together on climate change, the Marrakesh summit warned that the world has already experienced a warming of 1.2 degrees. It may, even now, be too late.
Often seen as the fly in the ointment in previous years, China’s conversion to renewable champions has a good deal of pragmatism at its core. With a slowing economy, they took heart from countries like South Korea and Japan who were already taking steps to make their energy and resource use more efficient. This led China to see renewable and low carbon technology as the future. Combine that with the big pollution problems in Tier One cities such as Beijing and they have every reason and every incentive to change.
With enough funds still in the bank, China can also payroll the development of renewable technology such as solar and wind and push these out to the developing world. There’s money to be made in low carbon projects and the Chinese realise it. If it’s one thing they really know how to do, it’s build quickly – last year China overtook Germany to become the country with the largest solar capacity. It’s providing jobs, some 3.5 million at the moment, and changing the energy landscape slowly but surely. That’s something perhaps the Americans, and Trump, need to take a closer look at.