China gets 75% of its electricity from generating stations driven by coal. The resulting air-borne pollution threatens the health of residents in large Chinese cities. On the worst days, these residents breathe not air but smog, smog that contains levels of toxic gases and particulates far beyond well-established limits.
The Chinese Government recognizes that poor air quality is causing a public health crisis. This recognition drives China’s policy of fast-tracking development of renewable energy – more so than the need for lower carbon emissions or energy security.
China is taking forceful measures to mitigate air-borne pollution, measures that will also reduce CO2 emissions. For example, Beijing, one of China’s more seriously affected cities, announced new laws to cut emissions from vehicles. Here are some of the provisions:
- new car registration will be reduced by 37.5%;
- of these new registrations 40% must be new energy vehicles;
- total number of vehicles licenced for Beijing will not exceed 6 million,
Beijing is also limiting emissions from construction projects and commercial establishments. Offenders are subject to heavy fines.
If, as, and when it solves the immediate health crisis, will China take an equally forceful attitude towards CO2 emissions?
China is the world’s largest generator of wind power. The rapid deployment of wind power has not been without its problems. Wind power is intermittent, and China has not perfected the technology to integrate this output into its national electricity grid. Clearly China must overcome this problem if it is to meet its target of more than doubling its generation of electricity from wind power over the next six years.
But will this expansion of renewable energy actually result in a reduction in GHG emissions? Or will additional wind turbines only supply electricity needed for an increase in Chinese manufacturing capacity, while coal fired generating stations remain the principal source of electricity in China? If so, given existing trends, China will overtake the US as the world’s largest emitter of CO2.
The answer depends on first, the view that China takes of the need for mitigation of GHG, and secondly, whether the cost of wind power falls to a point that it can compete with coal as an energy source.
China’s top climate negotiator said that his country has pledged to cut its carbon intensity by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels. It is easy for a country to claim that it will meet future targets: Canada has done so consistently since it committed to targets at Copenhagen in 2009.
There are questions. In the Climate Change Performance Index, China is ranked as poor. So can the world consider China’s pledge as an assurance of a result? Or is it optimistic speculation?
There is still a fragile hope that China will become a world leader in another category – reducing GHG emissions.