We’ve all seen the images from Beijing, millions of residents chocking on dirty yellow smog. It’s the result of China’s dependency on coal as a primary fuel – something the current government plans to attack in a bold energy initiative focused on solar, wind and other renewable sources.
The goal is to curb greenhouse gases, a plan that will create 13 million jobs and pump $350 billion into China’s economy between now and 2020 according to the New York Times.
It’s a move that plays to China’s strengths as an industrial powerhouse. China has already helped spur the renewable sector by aggressively driving down manufacturing costs for wind and solar manufacturing. As a result, these renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly competitive with power generation from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.
By moving away from a focus on reducing carbon emissions the United States risks turning over the lead in the renewable sector to China.
The New York Times
China Aims to Spend at Least $360 Billion on Renewable Energy by 2020
By MICHAEL FORSYTHE
JAN. 5, 2017
China intends to spend more than $360 billion through 2020 on renewable power sources like solar and wind, the government’s energy agency said on Thursday.
The country’s National Energy Administration laid out a plan to dominate one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, just at a time when the United States is set to take the opposite tack as Donald J. Trump, a climate-change doubter, prepares to assume the presidency.
The agency said in a statement that China would create more than 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2020, curb the growth of greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming and reduce the amount of soot that in recent days has blanketed Beijing and other Chinese cities in a noxious cloud of smog.
China surpassed the United States a decade ago as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, and now discharges about twice as much. For years, its oil and coal industries prospered under powerful political patrons and the growth-above-anything mantra of the ruling Communist Party.
The result was choking pollution and the growing recognition that China, many of whose biggest cities are on the coast, will be threatened by rising sea levels.
But even disregarding the threat of climate change, China’s announcement was a bold claim on leadership in the renewable energy industry, where Chinese companies, buoyed by a huge domestic market, are already among the world’s dominant players. Thanks in part to Chinese manufacturing, costs in the wind and solar industries are plummeting, making them increasingly competitive with power generation from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.
Sam Geall, executive editor of Chinadialogue, an English- and Chinese-language website that focuses on the environment, said that the United States, by moving away from a focus on reducing carbon emissions, risked losing out to China in the race to lead the industry.
Mr. Trump has in the past called the theory of human-cased global warming a hoax and picked a fierce opponent of President Obama’s rules to reduce carbon emissions, Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
The investment commitment made by the Chinese, combined with Mr. Trump’s moves, means jobs that would have been created in the United States may instead go to Chinese workers.
Even the headline-grabbing numbers on total investment and job creation may understate what is already happening on the ground in China. Greenpeace estimates that China installed an average of more than one wind turbine every hour of every day in 2015, and covered the equivalent of one soccer field every hour with solar panels.
China may meet its 2020 goals for solar installation by 2018, said Lauri Myllyvirta, a research analyst at Greenpeace, who is based in Beijing.
But despite these impressive numbers, China’s push to clean its air and reduce its greenhouse gasses faces political pressure from the politically powerful coal industry.