Saturday, October 24, 2009

China Does Climate Change Turnabout

Conventional wisdom holds that China, now the world’s largest contributor of greenhouse gases, is also the biggest foot-dragger on climate change, refusing to place a cap on its greenhouse gas emmissions. (In fact, it seems this is a popular talking point among anti climate-change legislation folks.)

That seems to be changing, according to today’s Washington Post:
Yet, in visible and less visible ways, China has begun to address its emissions problem. The steps are driven in part by the parochial concern that climate change could worsen the flooding that plagues the country's low-lying coastal regions, including Shanghai, and cause water shortages in western areas as glaciers in the Himalayas melt away.

But China has also begun to see energy efficiency and renewable energy as ingredients for the type of modern economy it wants to build, in part because it would make the nation's energy sources more secure.

"We think this is a new business for us, not a burden," said Gan Zhongxue, who left a job as a top U.S. scientist for the giant ABB Group to head up research and development at ENN, the Langfang company that made its fortune as the dominant natural gas distributor in 80 Chinese cities.

This makes sense, and is the argument we tree-hugging liberals have been making in the U.S. for years. It’s just good business. God hasn’t made dinosaurs in a few million years; oil is finite. We’re running out, the world is going to need a new energy source, so why not be leaders of the new energy economy instead of holding on to the past?

According to the Post, China’s government has taken steps to address climate change that put the American government to shame:

Still, China has taken significant steps in the past five years. It removed subsidies for motor fuel, which now costs more than it does in the United States; its fuel-efficiency standard for new urban vehicles is 36.7 miles per gallon, a level the United States will not reach for seven years. It has set high efficiency standards for new coal plants; the United States has none. It has set new energy-efficiency standards for buildings. It has targeted its 1,000 top emitters of greenhouse gases to boost energy efficiency by 20 percent. And it has shut down many older, inefficient industrial boilers and power plants.


Smaller details are getting attention, too. Xie said forcing supermarkets to charge for plastic bags reduced the use of the bags by two-thirds, saving the equivalent of about 30,000 barrels of oil a day.

Last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said the efforts are starting to pay off. The agency lowered its estimate of future Chinese greenhouse gas emissions.

This should set off alarm bells here in the States: if a behemoth like China is transitioning its economy toward a green future, we’d better scramble to catch up or we will be left behind.

Make no mistake, China has a long way to go. I suffer no delusions in that regard. But we can no longer hide our head in the sand and justify our own polluting ways by saying “China’s worse!”