24/07/2024 MÉXICO

China is the new green global leader

A Chinese worker at the top of a wind turbine. [Photo: usclimatenetwork.org]
China's production of green technologies has grown by a 77 per cent last year, according to the new WWF’s report. China is the largest producer in the world in money terms, earning more than 44 billion of euros, or 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product. Is China the new global green leader?

Chinese pragmatism

“When you speak to the Chinese, climate change is not an ideological issue. It’s just a fact of life. While we debate climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy, the debate is passed in China. […] For them it’s implementation. It’s a growth sector, and they want to capture this sector”. Try to guess who said this. Obviously he or she is not from the US government. But he is from a worlwide known environmental NGO. The one who said this is Donald Pols, an economist with the WWF.

But, Pols is not the only one who thinks this: “China invested almost twice as much in clean energy projects last year compared with the US, and has emerged as the world’s market leader in installed wind power capacity in 2009”. An impressive opening by the May 2010 issue of the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices, released by Ernst & Young, which placed China (and it still does) as the most attractive country in the world to invest in renewable energy.

Just a few weeks ago the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) released the World Wind Energy Report 2010 which introduces the latest data on worlwide wind capacity. The report stresses that China became in 2010 number one in total installed capacity and the center of the international wind industry, and  added  18,928  Megawatt  within  one  year, accounting for more than 50 % of the world market for new wind turbines.

But outside China a decrease in new growuth capacity was observed, which the report justifies, along with Pols statements, as a result of insufficient political support for wind energy utilisation. In a paradox situation, more and more policymakers are declaring their support for increased use of wind energy, but such statements do not go hand in hand with the necessary political decisions.

Risks of a too agressive green growth

China’s production of green technologies has grown by a remarkable 77 per cent a year, according to the new WWF’s report. China is the largest producer in money terms, earning more than 44 billion of euros, or 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product. This is a direct result of a conscious decision to capture this market and to develop it aggressively, according to Pols.

But, on its latest issue (February 2011) of the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices, Ernst & Young, warns that while China continues to lead the way and is still experiencing growth in its wind and solar markets, “its score remains static, amid concerns over the sustainability of its meteoric growth, falling stocks, inflationary preassures, and indications of an uneven supply chain. Its closest competitor, the US, has approved a one-year extension of the Treasury Grant Scheme – providing some much needed respite to its renewable energy market.”

On the other side, Denmark, a longtime leader in wind energy, derives 3.1 percent of its gross domestic product from renewable energy technology and energy efficiency, or about euro6.5 billion ($9.4 billion). The U.S. ranks 17 in the production of clean technologies with 0.3 percent of GDP, or 31.5 billion euros, but those industries have been expanding at a rate of 28 percent per year since 2008.

2010: lowest worlwide wind capacity increase since 2004

Last year worldwide wind capacity reached 196,630 Megawatt, out of which 37,642 Megawatt  were  added  in 2010, slightly less than in 2009 (38,147 MW). This means that wind power showed a growth rate of 23,6 %, the lowest growth since 2004 and the second lowest growth of the past decade. Investment in new wind turbines saw a decline in many parts of the world. For the first time in more than two decades, the market for new wind turbines was smaller than in the previous year.

After major decrease in new installations can  be  observed  in  North  America  and  the USA lost its number one position in total capacity to China.

Top wind markets 2010

In 2010, the Chinese wind market became a class  of  its  own, representing more than half of the world market for new wind turbines adding 18,9 GW,  which equals a market share of 50,3 %. A  sharp  decrease  in  new  capacity happened in the USA whose share in new wind turbines fell down to 14,9 % (5,6 GW),  after 25,9 % or 9,9 GW in the year 2009.

Nine further countries could be seen as major markets, with turbine sales in a range between 0,5 and 1,5 GW: Germany, Spain, India, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Sweden and  the Eastern European newcomer Romania.

In relation to its population, Denmark has the by far highest amount of installed capacity per person (0,675 kW per person), followed by Spain (0,442 kW/person), Portugal (0,344 kW/person) and Germany (0,334 kW/person). In this perspective, world leader China only  lands  on  place  27  (0,033 kW/person), the USA reach number 9 (0,128 kW/person) and India  reaches only position 39 (0,011 kW/person).

Obama’s green new deal may be Jintao’s green new deal

About two months ago a news surprised and shaked the world: China would show down its economic growth to curb its greenhouse emissions.

As a consequence of that rapid industrialization in 2007, China became the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Since then, not only the EU and the US, but also developing nations such as the alliance of small island states have put the government in Beijing under pressure to adopt binding emission cuts.

As a result of that, at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, China announced that it would reduce its carbon intensity – the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic output – by at least 40% by 2020. Achieving this ambitious goal has become an overriding political priority for the Chinese government. The draft of its new five-year plan, which was discussed by the National People’s Congress in March, included an environmental tax and other carbon-cutting measures.

One of the most shocking and unexpected measures unveiled by Beijing is that China had set an annual growth target of 7% to ensure sustainable development during its new five-year plan. Hence, the new target (lowered from 8%, the initial expected economic growth rate) may mark the end of China’s peak growth years as environmental constraints drive up the expense of resources and pollution control.

“In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humanity and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” the environment minister Zhou Shengxian wrote on his ministry’s website. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the deterioration of the environment have become serious bottlenecks constraining economic and social development.”

In words of the premier, Wen Jiabao, this decisions responds to the will “to raise the quality and efficiency of economic growth”. He said: “We absolutely cannot again sacrifice the environment as the cost for high-speed growth, to have blind development, and in that way to create over-capacity and put greater pressure on the environment and resources. That economic development is unsustainable.”

Between 2000 and 2010 China’s energy demand has surged by 220%, compared to a world average of 20%. Since 2006, the country has accounted for 75% of the global increase in coal consumption and 60% of the increase in oil use.

Some skeptics say that China is in a hurry for cooling its economy to prevent its collapse, and that the economic slow down responds to entirely this fact (where the “green side” would just be a matter of aesthetics). But some other are optimistic about China’s green intentions. Whatever it is the real reason the planet may take a cleaner breath in the future.

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Lluis Torrent

Barcelona, España. Licenciado en Ciencias Ambientales, Máster en Intervención Ambiental, Máster en Relaciones Internacionales y Especialista en Ciencia Política. He trabajado como consultor ambiental para gobiernos locales y regionales y empresa privada. Socialmente comprometido, me apasiona explorar la fina línea que transcurre entre la política, la economía, la sociedad y el medio ambiente. Sígueme en Google+ Lluis Torrent

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