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China’s Path to a Greener Future

From the US presidential debates, it is clear that China is posing an increasing threat to the US economy as it grows to new hegemonic levels. Candidates agree that the US should be made more competitive and less reliant on foreign markets like China, this includes energy independence.

Throughout the elections, discussions on energy independence have been dominated by talks about pipelines and drilling, and have included little dialogue of establishing a more comprehensive green policy agenda. With China strengthening its dedication to green technology and alternative energy, however, shouldn’t the US be making these issues a higher priority as well?

Besides Green Party candidate Jill Stein, there has been little talk of environmental issues. While hardly a surprise, as the topic hasn’t exactly been a huge factor in any previous US election, it does call into question the ability of the US to take on China as the Asian giant increases its dedication to green technology and a more sustainable future that offers alternative forms of energy. Just how much is China really investing in this?

After becoming the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses in 2007, China announced last year that it would slow growth in order to reduce its emissions up to 40% by 2020. Introduced as part of the country’s new five-year economic plan, the provision demonstrates how the issue has become an overriding political priority in recent years.

Terms include an effort to reduce growth from 8% to 7% annually, and investing more heavily in green technology and sustainable business ventures. World Bank statistics show that, by 2020, the green industry could make up 15% of China’s GDP. To date, this figure hovers around 1.4%, making China the largest producer in money terms (amounting to over €44 billion).

Today, China is investing more money in green technology than any other nation. By giving incentives to businesses in order to promote more efficient green policies, and investing resources in expanding research and development on alternative energy resolutions, the country is gaining an edge in the global market. Plans to meet 20% of its energy needs from renewable resources by 2020 supports the country’s goal to become the global production site for green technology.

In 2010, the Chinese market on wind energy grew to represent over half of the world’s market by adding 18,9 gigawatts (GW) to the global total. As one of the few capable countries where wind energy has decreased, the United States saw a decrease from 9,9 to 6,5 GW. Despite China’s recent increase, Denmark leads the market in per capita terms, championing 0,678 kW/person while China remains 27th in the world at 0,033 kW/person). Nonetheless, China is laying a foundation not only for a greener vision, but also the ability to execute it.

These efforts are motivated both by the desire of becoming the global leader in the green energy market and out of necessity, as recent high levels of economic growth have brought about extreme repercussions. Data from the World Health Organisation shows that an average of 665,000 people died annually due to air pollution, and an additional 95,000 people due to contaminated drinking water.

Stating that the conflict between nature and humanity is reaching dangerous levels never before experienced in the country, the Chinese environment minister attested that the environmental problems at hand are causing serious bottlenecks harming economic and social development. While China poses an extreme case as its energy demand has grown 220% over the past ten years compared to the 20% average increase, the environmental challenges causing this surge in green technology is not confined to China.

If the United States wants to get an edge on China, it will be increasingly important that the former refocuses its commitment to the research and development of the domestic green technology sector. While, unfortunately, a lot of Americans remain on the fence about whether global climate change actually exists, a consensus should be reached so that any substantial additions can be made to the green policy agenda in order to propel the US back into the front – and stay there – as green technology grows to play a much bigger role in the future. If not, America will continue to purchase its wind turbines from China instead of designing and developing them at home – and with all this talk of energy independence this may soon be a larger problem than imagined.

 –  Valerie Weber


(Featured image: No Derivative WorksPaternité by Land Rover Our Planet, Flickr, Creative Commons)

About Valerie Weber

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