China recently overtook the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world – between them these two countries now account for just over 40 per cent of the global total. However, its leaders have made clear that China supports the aims of the Copenhagen conference and stands behind any measure which plays a role in meeting the challenge of climate change. Speaking most recently at a United Nations summit on climate change in September in New York, President Hu Jintao pledged for the first time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in proportion to economic growth by “a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.”
The critical question – debated by business leaders and experts active in new energy and climate change during a Brunswick roundtable discussion in late August 2009 – is how much a rapidly developing country like China is willing to do to limit the growth of its polluting emissions?
Participants pointed out that China is active and positive about co-operation with Europe and the US, looking to help save energy, reduce pollution, and develop environmentally friendly technologies. This is despite the fact that the country’s impact, when understood in terms of per capita emissions, is far below most western countries.
China’s actions ahead of Copenhagen, indeed, are critical to building trust among the important international players, widely viewed as a key precondition for a successful outcome to the conference. China, one participant reminded his peers, has taken more measures than any other country to cut down its harmful emissions of CO2 and has set ambitious targets for renewable energy and the enhancement of energy efficiency. Between 2005 and 2010 the aim is to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 per cent, a goal that the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top planner, believes is achievable.
Green technology, others argued, is developing fast and the concept of “reduce, reuse and recycle” is being especially strongly promoted. China is investing 34 per cent of its $600bn stimulus on energy efficiency and renewable energy development projects. It now dominates the world solar cells market and continues to expand its wind power capacity in areas such as Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. The central government has tripled its targets for wind power to 100 gigawatts by 2020.
Baoding is a good example of China’s leading position in green reform. The city has become the solar and wind hub of China and is the premier “carbon positive” city worldwide. Domestically, China is working on a significant move into solar-powered households with a feed-in tariff that will allow people to sell electricity back to the grid. Among other initiatives, the Chinese Ministry of Finance is working to grant financial subsidies to aid the development of energy-saving innovations as well as enacting policy to reduce emissions by encouraging the use of new-energy automobiles for public transportation (including taxis) in 13 cities including Beijing and Shanghai. It will also carry out ten key projects to support green tech innovation in enterprises, and in large public and residential buildings. The Ministry also envisages expanding the use and consumption of environmentally friendly products by indirectly subsidizing Chinese consumers.
As reported in Time Magazine, a recent global poll showed that 94 per cent of Chinese wanted to see action to tackle global warming. In contrast, the figure in America was 44 per cent. This highlights the strong desire of the Chinese population to combat environmental issues. The sheer scale achieved through encouraging a change in consumer behavior was well illustrated when the government forced supermarkets to charge for plastic bags – in just 12 months, nationwide, 40bn plastic bags were saved, roughly equivalent to 3m tonnes of oil.