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China's Surge in Renewable Energy
(Released May 2011)

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  by Ethan Goffman  

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Renewables and Climate Change

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Global pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is part of the reason for China’s turn to renewables. Officially, China has long denied responsibility, claiming, along with many developing countries, that since it “came late to the industrialization game, the core economies, with their significantly greater historical greenhouse gas contributions, must pay for a global transformation away from fossil fuels” (Economy). Even today, as the largest greenhouse gas emitter, China “adamantly refuses to commit to any binding, international carbon emissions reduction targets” (Ma), arguing that it is in many ways still a poor country, and not historically responsible for the climate crisis. There is some substance to this argument, as each Chinese is responsible for only 1/5 the emissions of the average American (Ma) (the U.S. currently has 313 million people while China has over 1.3 billion, according to the CIA World Fact Book). Yet China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and future projections are that the situation will only get worse.  Despite clean energy efforts, China is expected to “nearly double its coal-fired power capacity from 350 gigawatts (GW) in 2006 to 950 GW in 2030 and . . . will account for 74 percent of the total increase in the world's coal-related carbon dioxide emissions during that period” (Ma). Clearly, such an increase would put tremendous stress on the world’s ecosystems.

China's CO2 Emissions
China CO2 emission per millions of metric tons from 1980 to 2009.

Despite its denials of responsibility, China did pledge, at the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen, to cut its carbon intensity by at least 40 percent by 2020 (Biello Coal; Ma). In addition, China acknowledges that it is suffering a multitude of climate change effects : “heat waves in the summer, worsening droughts in northern China, an increase in heavy precipitation in southern China, a growing occurrence of snow disasters in western China, and a ‘conspicuous rise’ in ‘extreme climate phenomena’” (Ma). The pressure to do something is growing, as China’s already stressed environment will suffer more. Even with China’s surge in renewables and energy efficiency, because its economy continues to grow at such a rapid rate, its total emissions are almost certain to increase. Overall, China continues to put economic growth as its highest priority.

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