China has recently announced ambitious environmental plans to stave off climate change. But are those plans enough, and can China really deliver? Economic analyst Sara Hsu welcomes the plans at Triple Crisis, but wonders if it is going to work.
The nation is on the right track. Funds for solar, wind, and other renewable energies rose by 16% last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, growing for the first time since 2011. Much of the growth in investment resulted from new wind project investment that was years in the making. Currently, China is the largest investor in renewable energy; the International Renewable Energy Agency notes that the share of renewable energy in China’s energy supply was 13% in 2010, and the renewable energy sector employed 2.6 million people in 2013. Installed capacity of solar photovoltaic energy increased to 20 GW, while hydropower capacity amounted to 400 GW, and wind energy rose to 91 GW in 2013. According to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s end-use energy is projected to reach 3.2 billion tons of coal equivalent by 2050. To meet these needs, improvements in the power grid and reforms in energy and emissions policies are required.
Some of the improvements to the power grid will be carried out by implementing a “smart grid” system by 2020. New long-distance transmission and distribution networks will be constructed, according to the National Development and Reform Commission. Already, use of energy smart technologies, such as power storage and electric cars, rose to $37 billion in 2014.
In addition, China has begun a number of sustainability experiments, including the designation of a renewable energy pilot zone in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, which was established to be a “low-carbon Olympic zone.” The city has engaged in natural-resource extraction and heavy industry, and resource depletion has created challenges for the area. The designation of the city as a Winter Olympic co-host in 2022 has accelerated sustainability efforts, increasing usage of wind and solar energy in order to reduce the carbon footprint. Renewable energy is to fuel 55% of electricity consumption and all of public transportation energy usage.
Still, it will take a prodigious effort to cure China’s environmental ills. If energy needs increase, expanding the use of renewable energy to 20% of the fuel makeup may be insufficient to avert climate change. China has stated in the international arena that emissions are to peak by 2030, the year by which climate change is predicted to become irreversible. After this point, the earth will have reached the tipping point, in which the Arctic will become a source, rather than a net sink, of carbon.
Therefore, even though China is working hard to increase its usage of renewable energy, this simply may not be enough to stave off climate change. The solution must be a stronger reduction in the use of carbon-intensive energy, entailing conscientious consumer use as well as more efficient producer use and implementation of carbon-reducing technologies. China’s policy makers take a gradual approach to changing the status quo, but climate change cannot wait.
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