Climate Change and China (Part 11) Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC


Last week I focused on the carbon-intensive side of China’s energy policy.  In 2008, China became the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Even so, China’s per capita emissions were only one quarter of the U.S. levels. China’s negotiating position in international fora on climate change is undermined by its rapid increase in emissions. From being a victim of other countries greenhouse gas emissions, it is now becoming a leading contributor to global emission and climate change.  It is worthwhile noting that no country has yet managed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity during a development surge similar to that which China is now experiencing. China also knows that there are many rich, industrialized countries which have emissions intensity much lower than China.

In the last few years China has begun to focus more and more on the rapid development of renewable sources of energy from wind, photovoltaic and hydro.

To begin with the latter, in 2009, China had the largest hydro-electric capacity in the world, 197 million kW. China produces 40% of the world’s photovoltaic cells totalling four million kW. In addition 60% of the world’s solar water heating panels, totalling 145 million square metres, can be found in China.  Wind farms are also springing up in many places. In July 2010, 34 wind farms began operating at Shanghai East Sea Bridge Wind Farm.  The facility will generate 267 million kW a year, which is the equivalent of 100,000 tonnes of coal. It supplied power to the Shanghai Expo in 2010.[1] According to a recent report from the WorldWatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental NGO, entitled, Worldwatch Report: Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in China: Current Status and Prospects for 2020, China has become a leader in renewable energy. At a time when many countries still struggle with the aftermath of a devastating financial crisis, the Chinese government has used its strong financial position to direct tens of billions of dollars into clean energy— increasing the lead that Chinese companies have in many sectors. [2]

Since 2005, the Chinese government has elevated its energy conservation and energy efficiency efforts to basic state policy. The 11th Five-Year Plan (2006–10), set an energy-savings target of 20 percent, and the country has adopted administrative, legal, and economic measures to achieve this goal. During the first three years of the plan, China’s energy intensity— its energy consumption per unit of GDP—fell by just over 10 percent, saving 290 million tons of coal equivalent (tce) and reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 750 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. This pace of energy conservation has rarely been achieved by the rest of the world. [3] Quite a significant share of the $590 billion economic stimulus package which was launched in  2008, has been directed towards developing low-carbon technologies.

In the current development plan, China has set a goal of 30 gigawatts for wind energy.  By the year 2020 they hope to  increase that dramatically to 100 GW. In the area of solar energy, Zhang Xiaoqiang, the vice-chairman of China’s national development and reform commission stated that, by 2020, the “total installed capacity for solar power will be at least three times that of the original target which was 3GW.  Since it now only generates 120 megawatts of electricity from solar energy which will represent a 75-fold expansion. [4]

Unlike powerful vested interests in the U.S. who are either in denial or opposed to addressing climate change, China knows how vulnerable it is to severe wealth events. In June 2010, floods in China killed over 175 people, displaced 800,000 and destroyed homes and businesses in Guangdong and Fujian provinces.  The damage was estimated at $1.6 billion. In the previous year, much of that area had experienced the worst drought in living memory. [5] Spreading desertification is also a major climate-related issue for China. China, furthermore, is aware that if the glaciers diminish significantly on the Himalayas or the Tibetan plateau, this will have a direct negative impact on the Yangtze and Yellow rivers which are so important to the agricultural and other needs of tens of millions of Chinese.


The Memorandum of Understanding between the U.K and China which was signed  by Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang on January 10, 2011, during a state visit to London. This demonstrates China’s is interests in working with  other countries to accelerate the shift to a low carbon future. [6]


[1] Ibid page 38.

[3] ibid

[4] Julian Borger and Jonathan Watts, “China launches green power revolution to catch up on west,” The Guardian, June 10th 2009. Page 1 and 2.

[5] “China’s floods kill 175 and displace 800,000, The Irish Times, June 22, 2010, page 29.


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