In February I blogged about China and how it’s carbon emissions skyrocketed during the decade 2002 to 2012. I speculated that emissions might soon start to fall. Over the last few weeks a number of articles seem to be suggesting that things are beginning to change for the better in a very profound way. China’s economic boom has largely been driven by massive coal use. The switch away from coal now seems to be gathering pace, triggered largely by the need to improve urban air quality, and also by the desire to take action on climate change.
From 2013 to 2014 Chinese carbon emission fell by 2%. The question is, is this an anomaly or the start of increasingly rapid falls? The evidence is mounting that it is the start of something very good for China and for the world. In January new laws came in to ban the import of the dirtiest coal, with the highest ash and sulphur content. This will have significant impacts on coal mining in Australia and Indonesia who’ll loose a major market. Many of their coal mines will close. China also plans to close 2,000 of its smaller coal mines. Beijing used to have four coal-fired power stations in the city just a couple of years ago: by next year the last one is due to close as urban air quality improvements are sought. They will be replaced by gas, and by renewables.
Investment in renewables in China is growing at around 30 to 60% per year. In 2004 annual investment was just $3 billion, by 2013 $56.3 billion was invested, and by 2014 this was $89.5 billion, probably this year the $100 billion threshold will be passed. Cumulatively over the coming decade trillions will be invested, hopefully decoupling economic growth from rising carbon emissions. One example is that China plans to triple its solar power to 70,000MW installed capacity by 2017.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is being set-up and funded largely by China, but just about every country on Earth, except the USA, is getting behind it. It will probably be a huge boost, channeling multi-trillion dollar investments predominantly into the Chinese Cleantec sector. It could also act to strengthen regional electricity and gas pipeline interconnection, bringing Australian solar power, Indonesian tidal, geothermal and biomass, Mongolian wind, solar from the high deserts of the Tibetan Plateau and offshore wind, tidal and OTEC energy resources into the huge energy markets of eastern China, South Korea and Japan. Stewart Taggart from Grenatec (Green Renaissance through Advanced Technology) has been arguing for these large scale energy market reforms and infrastructure investments for many years. Now these ideas are moving centre stage, and could facilitate the plummeting of Chinese and worldwide carbon emissions.
Many commentators on Climate Change, such as Jeremy Leggett are sounding more optimistic than ever before. The mood ahead of the Paris Conference is sounding very much more ‘can do’, and the fossil fuel disinvestment campaign is gathering momentum, just as the Cleantec industries are really scaling up, and now the financial resources are coming on stream. The next few years will prove pivotal, and I for one will be looking out with interest to see if China, and other countries, can really decouple economic growth from carbon emissions, and myriad other forms of pollution. Is universal prosperity compatible with ecological sustainability: the evidence of the next decade will be critical for the future of humanity.