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Green China

Written By: - Date published: 1:45 pm, December 4th, 2010 - 26 comments
Categories: climate change, energy, International, sustainability - Tags: ,

I confess that I am used to thinking of China as a polluter, not much concerned with environmental standards or green technology. I am very pleased indeed to find that I am wrong. This account is couched in the competitive terms of the cold war arms race, but it also tells us plenty about what China is accomplishing:

US energy secretary warns of ‘Sputnik moment’ in green technology race

Steven Chu says US must invest urgently in research and innovation to keep pace with China and other countries

The United States faces a “Sputnik moment” in the global clean energy race and risks falling far behind advances by China and other countries, the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, warned today. …

Meanwhile, China had emerged as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power, and was breaking ground on 30 new nuclear reactors. It now has the fastest high-speed trains in operation, with running speeds of 220mph.

Gao Guangsheng, a senior Chinese official for climate change policy, told a conference in California this month that China was gearing up for even bigger investment in clean energy technology in its next five-year plan.

Gao went on to tell the conference, which was hosted by California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, that China had reached its goal for wind power 10 years ahead of schedule.

“We set up a concrete conception of low carbon development,” he said. But he doubted America could profit from China’s example: “I am afraid China’s experience of green development may not be useful for the United States because of different domestic situations.”

Chu, however, in his speech today said the US could recapture its leadership position with investment in research and incentives for clean energy manufacturing.

“America still has the opportunity to lead in a world that essentially needs a new industrial revolution,” he said. “But time is running out.”

This is very encouraging. It would be even more encouraging of course, if China (much blamed in the fiasco that was the Copenhagen climate talks) could build on these initiatives to make firm commitments on reducing carbon emissions, or even take a leadership role internationally on this issue. In that way it could truly take control of what is looking, more and more, like the Chinese century.

26 comments on “Green China ”

  1. Sean Brooks 1

    Words fail me. You really think China has a better enviromental record than the USA???

    Nect you will be talking about there human rights record.

    • Marty G 1.1

      he’s not saying their record is better, he’s saying they’re progressing faster, and the US will be left in the dust if it doesn’t get on the clean tech bandwagon now

      very clever of Chu to frame the argument this way – appealing to the US vanity and superiority complex.

      • Ari 1.1.1

        Okay, this post is VERY misleading in its framing.

        Rushing ahead to develop cleaner technology doesn’t make you green. Being green requires that you be ready to take measures other than further development to ensure that the world’s environment is healthy, stable, and supportive of all the things we need for a human ecosphere, and that we save as much as we can of the existing flora and fauna and the habitats they need to survive.

        That pretty much necessitates significant commitments to other ways of being green than simply advancing green science and development.

        All this is saying is that China believes that it will more competitive embracing green technology and potentially selling it to later adopters- which is something that only people in dirty industries and their bought-and-paid-for cronies are willing to deny anyway.

        • Colonial Viper

          In a certain way you are quite correct Ari. I’m pretty sure that China does not view the world in green-tinted glasses as it were.

          But because of its massive population and industry, the serious problems the leadership had getting the environment for the Beijing Olympics under control, anecdotal reports of farmers rioting because of despoilation of their farmland, entire towns protesting due to poisoning of their fresh water with industrial chemicals, its almost better than that.

          China now realises that the long term future stability of the country and hence their leadership is predicated on sustainable and environmentally sound practices.

          I expect the next 5 year plan to really drum home this message.

          (Nevertheless China will not be supporting a ‘static state economy’ anytime soon, China behaves as if it strongly believes that it needs strong year on year economic growth).

          • KJT

            Why should China give up pulling more of their population out of poverty so the USA can continue to emit. at twice EU levels. Or even NZ at 18 T/capita.

            EU countries (Except UK) manage a high standard of living for most of their populations while emitting half of NZ’s per capita Greenhouse gas.

            • Colonial Viper

              Yes, exactly. Quite aware that China still has twice the number of poor people that the US has people fullstop.

            • Ari

              China shouldn’t have to slow down or give up its development in order to address climate change or the environment, in fact in a fair world we should be paying them to make sure they development is green and sustainable, and to accelerate it. But good luck trying to make that happen.

              • KJT

                True. The USA is denying the developing world 100 Billion they asked for, for sustainable development. Even though it is a fraction of their military or bailout spending and it would mostly be spent in the USA anyway.

          • Ari

            Don’t get me wrong, I think China has more readily swallowed some of its “green pills” than the USA, in the forms of policies it didn’t want to implement that made it greener. I just don’t think you can objectively even approach calling china green at the moment given that it’s going in the wrong direction. It’s much the same fallacy as calling New Zealand politics green because we’ve had less time to spoil and overdevelop our country- we’re making up for lost time very well, in reality. China wants to do the same too, but they’re beginning to realise they can at least develop their business faster if they have fingers in the green pie while still burning tons of coal at every opportunity while it’s still artificially “cheap” because nobody pays for the cleanup costs.

    • Zorr 1.2

      The USA (as a country) has a positive environmental record? This is news to me. If, as the article seems to state, China is moving towards green technology then yes, they now have (and will continue to have) a better environmental record than the US of A.

    • KJT 1.3

      China’s Greenhouse gas emissions per capital 2005. 5.5 T.

      USA. 22.5 t.


      • Ari 1.3.1

        Keep in mind that China’s emissions are rapidly growing at a time when we need overall emissions to slow down, so even though they certainly beat out the USA at the moment, they’re going in the wrong direction and seem to be putting little effort into even getting the currently more-polluting countries to cut it out.

        Not to mention that while it may be polluting a lot less per capita, the people-to-resources ratio in China is much larger than in a western democracy, and they’re probably emitting a very large amount of pollution relative to the amount of resources they have available, and the only reason their per-capita rates are so low is because of the massive underclass in their society that lives on very little by our standards and so drags the average down nicely. It’d be very interesting to see a spread of emissions by income for china and compare it to a similar graph for western countries, as I imagine it wouldn’t come out too different at the same income levels. (ie. the reason they’re polluting less per person is because they have more and poorer people)

  2. Jack McDonald 2

    Interesting. But I doubt USA will follow suit, but the rest of the world must, making them more and more irrelevant.

  3. Bill 3

    The IPCC is calling for a green house gasses to be reduced between 20% and 40% by 2020, based on 1990 levels to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees Celcius.

    The EU is offering a 20 % reduction in green house gas emissions by 2020 based on 1990 levels. And a 30 % reduction if other nations make matching offers.

    The US is offering a 17 % reduction by 2020 levels based on 2005 levels, which equates to a 3 – 4 % reduction based on 1990 levels.

    China is offering cuts based on economic growth of 40 – 45% reduction based on 2005 levels.

    India is offering a 20 – 25% reduction based on 2005 levels.

    So, it would seem that China is offering more than the US and that nobody is doing anything like enough.

    Meanwhile, the US is hell bent on monkey wrenching any renewal of the verifiable Kyoto Protocol and having its unverifiable Copenhagen accord adopted. The wikileaks files contains correspondence on the US’s shenanigans. The Guardian has an article on it here.

    And I wonder if China is developing so-called green technologies out of altruism or because it needs a fall back position if the US manages to control the flow of oil coming from the (broadly speaking) Middle East.

    I can’t really see altruism coming into it. China might be a command economy, but it’s interacting with the rest of the world using market principles and as such is as much driven by considerations of growth and profit generation as the rest of them.

    So, you want that we save our arses? Then ‘kill’ these monstrous institutions of governance and do it.

  4. joe90 4


    Another warning, this time from an outgoing Republican.

    On clean energy development, Mr. Inglis warned his Republican colleagues that China was preparing to “eat our lunch.”

    “They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century,” he said. “We may press the pause button for a few years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button.”

  5. RascallyRabbit 5

    You can see it on the ground here in China – the country is building critical infrastructure that we in the developed world take for granted at an incredible rate – but everyone knows this already.

    However the most impressive aspect is that more often than not rather than copying models that were sufficient for implementation in the West during the 20th century infrastructure is being designed more for a post peak-oil world.

    You can see it in advertisements everywhere – ‘Green City’ ‘Green Development Park’ ‘The Hub of Sustainable Research and Development in Asia’ etc. etc. When this new technology is implemented it is rather exciting for example yesterday a train conducting a test on the under construction Beijing to Shanghai High Speed Rail line set a new speed record again. When completed this line will allow passengers to travel a distance similar to Auckland to Invercargill in under 5 hours – all on electric (albeit mostly coal generated but this is changing) trains.

    I guess the logic follows that if you need to build most of your infrastructure from scratch why would you follow a model that will be obsolete in a generations time? i.e. The American model in particular. New Zealand companies need to keep this in mind when looking to expand into the Chinese market that Chinese consumers and business people may soon be as sophisticated and/or picky as Europeans about environmental impact and sustainability.

    An interesting discussion regarding many of these points was on Dialogue recently (A CCTV English language current affairs show) which quite often gives a differing viewpoint to the one we usually see in the West. Dialogue

    • RascallyRabbit 5.1

      All comments are moderated on here now or just some? I haven’t commented for a while but still check out the site relatively frequently – just wondering if there is a change of policy or if I have made it on to some sort of blacklist at some point?! haha

      [lprent: There is a policy in the code that says you must have at least one comment passed by the moderators for a e-mail address before you’re given free access. It is there to slow down the idiots that think jumping identities is a good idea. Your e-mail is different from previous times you’ve commented. ]

    • Colonial Viper 5.2

      The Chinese have huge, awful environmental issues. To make the Beijing Olympics possible they literally had to shut down huge swathes of industry to prevent dangerous levels of air pollution.

      Nevertheless the Chinese leadership take Green and Sustainability issues incredibly seriously. Their green stimulus package last year defined $100B in new rail spending, and over $100B in other green/sustainability projects. Now some of that spending did get pared back later on, much to the annoyance of environmental groups, but it still represents a phenomenal leadership focus.

      IMO there is a pretty good chance that China will surpass the US in terms of green tech patent applications, and total size of green tech industry in the next 5 years.

  6. swimmer 6

    It would be great to see China become a clean country one day, unlike that terrible footage that I saw on Sunday of that factory choking the villagers. 🙁

  7. Jeremy Harris 7

    China has a long way to go before it catches up with the West in Green Tech or the quality of it’s environment…

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      Just checking you read this in the post, doesn’t seem like China’s tech is that far behind the west. Yep environmentally they are still wreaking havoc, that has to change.

      Meanwhile, China had emerged as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power, and was breaking ground on 30 new nuclear reactors. It now has the fastest high-speed trains in operation, with running speeds of 220mph.

      • felix 7.1.1

        Being the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power doesn’t tell us much on it’s own though – it’s a massive country with a huge population and manufacturing base so they’re probably the world’s largest producer of any number of things.

        I’d have thought the important measure would be the proportion of clean energy vs thermal.

    • Jeremy Harris 7.2

      I’d argue the Danes lead the world in development of Wind, Spain and the US in solar, places like NZ and Iceland in Geothermal…

      The Chinese may be the biggest producer of Green Techs but they are the world’s second biggest economy now and the world’s most populous nation, they are going to be the biggest producer in a lot of things…

      It still takes 2/3rds of the amount of carbon to produce a ton of steel in the US, than it does to produce a ton of steel in China…

      Edit: Beat me to the puch by 3 minutes there felix…

  8. JonL 8

    China is right up with the West on green tech and is poised to pull ahead. No, it’s not a “green ” environment by any means (yes, I’ve been there), but at least it is making the effort and takes the whole thing seriously – which is more than the West does! The only reason it is as polluted asit is is because of the massive population and infrastructure requirements. Show me the city (of 3 mill pop.) in the West, that has 95% of it’s hot water heating, solar!
    China’s long term planning to sustainable clean energy makes the likes of NZ and the US look like the hypocritical pack of wankers they are!

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