Full Frame: Green China

Full Frame

China may be the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, releasing more than the United States and the European Union combined. But China’s also leading the world in the push for renewable energy.

In 2018, China invested more than $91 billion in clean energy projects, accounting for nearly one-third of all global renewable investments, according to the United Nations. China is also the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy.

Clean tech entrepreneur Wu Changhua says Chinese residents and cities have turned to technology as a way to address the detrimental effects on the environment.  Wu points to some 600 Chinese cities that have called themselves “smart cities” for using technology and data to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

Reforms have at times come from the bottom-up. One app, called “Blue Map,” mapped and reported emissions data for 40,000 factories across China.

Society is coming together using technology and social media,” Wu said. “There’s a lot of social innovation and entrepreneurship there.”

The attention to water, air and soil quality is central to the work of farmer Shi Yan,  who runs an organic farm outside of Beijing.

“Agriculture pollution now is the first contributor of our pollution in China, so actually doing organic farming, I think, is the most important thing,” she said.

Future Green Economy

There’s long been a “false choice” that nations must first deal with poverty and then clean up the environment, said Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute.

“Actually, there is a much more healthy way to grow that is both more inclusive and that actually protects the environment in a more serious way,” Bapna said.

In China, cutting emissions means overhauling the nation’s energy mix. In 2018, coal made up nearly 60 percent of China’s source for energy. And researchers estimate that China’s oil and gas consumption could add more than 200 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2020.  

But China is working to position itself to reach peak emissions by its target of 2030. The country is now the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles.  

As climate change has increasingly become a top-priority issue, more countries are now watching China.

“If you take something like air quality, ideally what we’d like to see is a shift from private car ownership to public transit or to shift from coal to solar,” Bapna said. “But it’s not going to be a sustainable solution if what we do is we take those coal plants and move them in other parts of China that are away from cities. That’s not a long term sustained solution.”

“People are looking at China to see will China step up? Will it lean in and do its share on climate?” Bapna said.