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Steven Mufson reports
, Saturday, in The Washington Post
:China steps up, slowly but surely
Driven by climate concerns and a desire to modernize its economy, Beijing has begun addressing the emissions issue
LANGFANG, CHINA -- At a gleaming new research center outside Beijing, about 250 engineers and researchers from the ENN Group are trying to figure out how to make energy use less damaging to the world's climate.
In a large greenhouse, hundreds of tubes hold strains of algae being tested for how much carbon dioxide they can suck from the air. Outside, half a dozen brands of solar panels are being matched for performance against the company's own. Next door, large blocks of earth, carved out of Inner Mongolia, have been trucked in to test for new methods of gasifying coal underground.
The private company is part of a growing drive by China to work out a way to check the rapid growth of its massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Seeking to transform an economy heavily dependent upon coal for electric power and industrial production, the government has closed down old cement and coal plants, subsidized row upon row of new wind turbines and taken other measures.
Among members of the U.S. Congress and negotiators preparing for a December climate summit in Copenhagen, China is often considered an obstacle because it has not committed to imposing a ceiling on its emissions of the gases that most scientists blame for climate change. China produces the most carbon emissions in the world, and the output is likely to continue growing for two decades. When President Hu Jintao pledged at the United Nations last month to lower the country's carbon intensity "by a notable margin," that was regarded as a step forward.
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.
In the right direction
For China, the challenge is immense. On average, a Chinese person emits one-fifth as much greenhouse gas as an American; an overwhelming majority of Chinese do not own cars; and half the population in China still lacks access to winter heating. But its economy is growing so quickly and prosperity is spreading so rapidly that China's demand for energy is destined to increase even if it uses less for every dollar of economic output. The State Grid's economic research institute forecasts an 85 percent increase in electricity demand by 2020.
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.
"Regardless of whether the United States passes its own legislation, China will take positive measures because this is a requirement for our own economy to conserve resources," said Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission and China's point man in international climate talks. If China mimics the West's wasteful modernization path, he said, the environment would not be livable. [...]
In comparison, Australia's record is shameful. We do not have the same pollution concerns as China but our society is around six times as pollution-energy-intensive per capita (as measured by CO2 emission, although the US is even worse than us) and most of our energy comes from burning coal.
Unlike our previous federal government, the present one - and indeed the leader of the federal Opposition - actually understands the science, but its lack of numbers in the Senate means that what was originally necessary in a climate change bill has been so watered down in an effort to gain passage, that if you put that much water into a glass of beer you would no longer taste the hops.
Thank you China for showing us what being serious means, or may be not.A further report
in the Post
on Monday by Mufson:AES taps into China's rush to wind power
Va. firm selling some fossil-fuel plants
HUANGHUA, CHINA -- Along the flat shoreline of the Bohai Sea, 33 new Chinese-made wind turbines jut up into the hazy sky, forming a line more than six miles long amid the shrimp farms here.
In the light breeze, the turbines turn lazily, but the pace of China's wind business is anything but sluggish. China aims to boost wind-generating capacity to more than 120 gigawatts by 2020, about four times the capacity that currently exists in the United States.
In Huanghua, about a three-hour drive southeast from Beijing, the concrete foundations for 30 more turbines have been laid and the project partners are eyeing possible expansion into the shallow waters offshore, where an oil-drilling rig now stands a short distance away.
"They are putting policies in place encouraging this on a grand scale," said Paul Hanrahan, chief executive of AES, an Arlington company that is a partner in this and three other Chinese wind projects.
Like many wind projects in China, this wind farm -- which started generating power last month -- is the product of U.S. and Chinese investment, featuring Chinese-made wind turbines and tapping Chinese subsidies for the electricity sold. Europe will play a role, too. If all goes according to plan, the venture will qualify to sell carbon offsets to traders or directly to European companies that are exceeding their emission quotas under Europe's cap-and-trade system.
China's push into wind energy is part of a broader effort to change its energy mix in an effort to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. It has set a goal of getting 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.
The experience of AES -- which generates electricity in 29 countries -- reflects the changing trends in China's energy sector. In the 1990s, AES focused on coal plants in China and it still operates three big ones, whose 2,400 megawatts of output dwarfs the company's Chinese wind farms.
Last year AES sold two inefficient fossil fuel power plants. One, an oil-fired plant, was bought and dismantled by the Chinese government. The other, coal-fired, was bought and may be refurbished by an aluminum maker; for now the plant is operating at only partial capacity.
"The Chinese are very much focused on things we would regard as environmentally sound practices," says Hanrahan, who was based in China for AES during the 1990s. "They are shutting down old [coal] plants and building new plants that are incredibly more efficient." [...]
These people are being so fvcking sensible. What can we do to stop them before they make us look terminally stupid?