CLI­MATE CHANGE: CHINA TAKES THE LEAD

India Today - - INSIDE - By Ananth Kr­ish­nan in Bei­jing

When Pres­i­dent Donald Trump an­nounced Amer­ica’s with­drawal from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment on June 1, he couldn’t re­sist a barb at the world’s big­gest pol­luter. “China will be al­lowed to build hun­dreds of ad­di­tional coal plants. We can’t build plants, but they can,” Trump com­plained, though the Paris agree­ment has no such pro­vi­sions. Ev­ery coun­try can de­cide its in­tended na­tion­ally de­ter­mined con­tri­bu­tion to cut­ting emis­sions.

Trump also hit out at In­dia, the third-big­gest emit­ter (af­ter the US, yet with emis­sions only a fifth of China’s) for sup­pos­edly re­ceiv­ing “bil­lions and bil­lions... in for­eign aid” and plan­ning to “double coal pro­duc­tion”, while gloss­ing over the fact that In­dia, which is in­stalling 100 GW of so­lar ca­pac­ity by 2022, has in fact low­ered its pro­duc­tion of coal and will bank on re­new­ables for 40 per cent of its en­ergy needs by 2030. “What Trump said is not the re­al­ity,” re­torted ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj.

Where does the US pull­out leave the world? With In­dia, China and Europe pledg­ing they will stick to com­mit­ments, the treaty is safe. In­deed, in Bei­jing, it’s a widely held view that Trump’s move may pave the way for China to emerge as a lead­ing voice in going green. In a sense, this shift is al­ready un­der way. De­spite Trump’s claim, the world’s big­gest pol­luter is no longer build­ing coal plants. In fact, China this year can­celled 103 coal projects. “While China cancels coal power plants, Trump cancels cli­mate ac­tion,” says Li Shuo, who works for Green­peace in Bei­jing and echoes a com­mon sen­ti­ment in say­ing that the move “will only cor­ner the US and present China with an op­por­tu­nity to reap the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of Amer­ica’s with­drawal”.

China is cer­tainly po­si­tion­ing it­self to be in the lead in emerg­ing green in­dus­tries. It al­ready builds two-thirds of the world’s so­lar panels, around half of the world’s wind tur­bines and op­er­ates more nu­clear re­ac­tors than any other coun­try, with 37 in use and 20 in the works. Bei­jing still de­pends on

coal, which ac­counts for two-thirds of its en­ergy needs. But coal pro­duc­tion has fallen for the third straight year. Emis­sions will peak by 2030, by when re­new­ables will ac­count for 20 per cent of China’s en­ergy needs.

China’s big­gest com­pul­sion in going green is not global am­bi­tion but do­mes­tic pres­sure, with ris­ing pub­lic anger about air and wa­ter pol­lu­tion. “This is also about so­cial sta­bil­ity,” says Ma Jun, a lead­ing Chi­nese en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. “We’ve seen NIMBY [not in my back­yard] protests for ma­jor projects. Lo­cal and cen­tral gov­ern­ments are con­cerned.”

Bei­jing also sees eco­nomic sense. This week, China hosted of­fi­cials from around the world, in­clud­ing In­dia’s en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Harsh Vard­han, for a clean en­ergy meet­ing aimed at strength­en­ing shar­ing of clean tech­nol­ogy. There is con­cern that the US with­drawal may re­duce global fund­ing for green projects, as well as ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy that China still needs.

Bei­jing, how­ever, is going for­ward with a mas­sive $360 bil­lion in­vest­ment in green en­ergy by 2030, which it says will cre­ate 13 mil­lion jobs, even as it deals with the prob­lem of lay­ing off work­ers in steel and coal. As US co­me­dian John Oliver put it this week, Trump is cer­tainly ful­fill­ing one cam­paign prom­ise: “He is cre­at­ing mil­lions of jobs, just for the wrong coun­try.”

REUTERS

CATCH THE RAYS A so­lar/ wind tur­bine plant in Hami, Xin­jiang prov­ince

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