Air Date: Week of August 8, 2008
In a scene reminiscent of the 19th century, coal carts are hauled through the streets in China. Many hope China will leap frog the development paradigm of the West and limit the duration of their polluting industrial revolution. (Courtesy of USGS)
China recently surpassed the United States as the worst carbon dioxide emitter in the world. But it is also a world leader when it comes to developing renewable energy technologies like wind and solar. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Changhua Wu, China director of the Climate Group and co-author of the recent report “China’s Green Revolution.”
GELLERMAN: Despite the pomp, a cloud still hangs over the Beijing Olympics, or as some have dubbed it: Greijing. Pollution persists in the capital- resisting China’s efforts to clean the air. But, there may be clearer skies on the horizon: a new report says China is in the process of cleaning up not just its act but other countries’ as well.
The report, “China’s Clean Revolution,” was written by the independent organization The Climate Group. Changhua Wu, co-author of the study says, China is working on many different green technologies:
WU: The list is pretty long and if you look at renewables, wind definitely is getting stronger and has been developing very, very fast. Definitely China has been producing, manufacturing a lot of Solar PV, mostly exporting to the developing world at this moment. Looking at a lot of other applications, like solar water heaters, China definitely is among the largest one in the world. And then down the list, and there is like biofuels, which is still controversial internationally but somehow China is also developing fast. Hydro is definitely on the list and China has been leading the technology in hydroelectricity and not only the large hydro but also the small and medium sized hydrotechnology as well. Unfortunately, China has to rely on coal mostly for its power but what’s encouraging for us to see is that the government and also the companies in China, are investing heavily in clean coal technology. So if you look at the clean coal technology that has been used worldwide, China is pretty much leading already.
GELLERMAN: I understand that in 2007, China invested, what, $12 billion in renewable energy technologies and that’s second only to Germany. Why are renewables getting so much attention in China right now then?
WU: The fact is that China today has to continue to rely on the coal but in the meantime we all know the coal factory is not only the major source of greenhouse gases but also domestic pollution. And so for the government basically it’s very, very crucial to look for alternatives. So investing heavily in the renewable energy sector is part of the national strategy to shift the country’s reliance on coal to other, cleaner, options.
GELLERMAN: Because according to the World Bank as you well know 20 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are located in China.
WU: Unfortunately, it is at this right moment. That’s also part of the challenge that the top leadership has been trying to grapple with.
GELLERMAN: Your economy is accelerating so fast. I was reading the other day that by what, 2020, they hope to quadruple the per capita income?
WU: Well, this mainly where the country stands today if you look at economy development. And China is a developing country and has to continue to grow even though China kind of has created an economic miracle in the last three decades or so by lifting millions, you know, hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But in reality, we still have a lot of people living in poverty. So China still at this kind of early stage of industrialization- the U.S. and many European countries have done your part- and now it’s China. And at this moment we’re hoping that China will not totally repeat the pathways of North America and European countries have taken in the industrialization process and hopefully we’ll find kind of cleaner, more efficient, low-carbon options.
GELLERMAN: Well, right now for the Olympics they’re cutting back on the number of cars that are entering the city of Beijing. What is China doing in terms of fuel-efficient cars and alternative fuels?
WU: There are two things I think the Chinese government has done. And one is dramatically improve the fuel-efficiency standards and we all know actually that the current standard in China is much higher than in the United States and still a little lower than that in Europe and in Japan. The second thing actually is that we started to see like more investment coming into more energy-efficient compact cars instead of really SUVs, stuff like that, and hopefully more and more people will start to buy more you know energy efficient cars rather than, you know, what you call a gasoline guzzling SUV.
GELLERMAN: Well, let me ask you to look out twenty, thirty years from now in terms of the conditions in China relative to clean technologies and renewables. Is China going to be significantly cleaner, do you think?
WU: I can bet on that and I’m pretty sure that down the road in twenty to thirty years, China will become a world leader around clean technology. Not only really a user of clean technology, but also a producer and a supplier for the rest of the world the clean technology as well.
GELLERMAN: I think if Chairman Mao was around today he might say something like, ‘Let a thousand clean technologies bloom.’
GELLERMAN: Well, Ms. Wu I want to thank you very much.
WU: Thank you.
GELLERMAN: Changhua Wu is the director of the non-profit organization The Climate Group.
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