How China Will (or Won't) Curb its GHG Emissions

China is now world leader in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet it’s also the world leader in clean-tech manufacturing, including the production of solar panels. So we end up with a country boasting its bold leadership in the renewable energy industry, while simultaneously polluting more than any other country on Earth. This is the Chinese contradiction.

[caption id=”” align=“alignright” width=“413” caption=“China’s GHG emissions could double in the coming decade”]Chinas GHG emissions could double in the coming decade[/caption]

It is an issue for which the Chinese government is taking a lot of heat. And rightly so. In 2007, a World Bank report found that pollution-related diseases kill 750,000 people every year in China. Of course, the Chinese leadership muscled the World Bank into censoring the report for fear of social unrest at home, where rivers are turning soupy and red with mining waste and other metals, where droughts are growing severe because smog won’t allow rain to fall and where, when it does rain, the water falls laden with sulphur dioxide (acid rain).

Under international heat over the last few years, China has come around a bit on climate change. They are already a world leader in renewable energy equipment production and now plan to increase domestic renewable energy production to 15% of its total energy consumption by 2020. New plans to curb GHG emissions have also been announced.

In China, the environmental goals are there. It’s how they’ll actually do it that remains uncertain.

Increase Renewable Energy

China has developed an incentive plan for solar and renewable energy, in which the government will pay 50% of the up-front costs for grid-tie solar power installations. Several details of the plan, including how much money they’ll set aside for the program, remain untold.

Curb Emissions

A renewable portfolio standard does increase the use of renewable energy, and should decrease the amount of fossil fuels used over time, but it doesn’t do anything to curb emissions from existing polluters. In response, President Hu Jintao divulged a plan to curb GHG emissions in his country. But that “plan” seems more of an arbitrary goal than a real plan.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Jintao vowed to cut carbon emissions by “a notable margin” by 2020. What exactly that margin is we don’t know, nor specifically how China will accomplish its “notable” goal.

The Toronto Star reports that China is working on a carbon trading system similar to the cap-and-trade schemes introduced in the U.S. by the Obama administration. The systems so far are small-scale pilots aimed specifically at stopping acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide. A separate permit trading emissions reduction program is apparently in the works, to be tested from 2011 to 2015. But specific details, such as the size of the trial program, whether GHG emissions will be included, and how it would be enforced have not been clarified.

In other words, all we can really say at this point about how China will curb its GHG emissions is that they’re thinking about it, talking about it and willing to explore the idea. We in the United States are all too familiar with this style of addressing problems - through vague and verbose orations that include a lot of talking with very little said.

It should be noted that the United States also has no renewable energy standard, no GHG reduction goals set and no real plan formulated to do so. Together, China and the United States create nearly half of the world’s pollution. And think about this: China’s population is nearly four times that of the U.S., which means that, per capita, we emit nearly four times as much pollutants as the Chinese.

It will take a real, binding commitment from the U.S. and China to curb global GHG emissions anywhere near the time frame that scientists are arguing for - a time frame that demands less global warming pollution by yesterday. Let’s hope that soon we’ll find out how, exactly, China will curb its GHG emissions.

Posted on October 6 in Solar Politics by .

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