Eastern Promise

China's push for a renewable energy future

Feature story - 7 April, 2004
Take a minute to consider the following. What if the world's most populous nation had the necessity-driven willpower to develop the massive uptake of renewable energy like wind and solar power to offset the catastrophic effects of climate change and to secure clean, safe, abundant energy for 1.3 billion people?

Wind farm near Nan'ao. The current installed capacity is 60MW but will be increased to 200MW.

It's not a 'what if', this is the new reality in this huge rapidlydeveloping country. China is uniquely positioned, with its size,population and leadership of the developing world, to forge the way forthe massive development of its abundant renewable energy resources inprovinces such as Guangdong for wind and Xinjiang for solar.

Ahead of last month's National People's Congress (NPC) the talk wasof ending the 'cult of GDP' and of a 'Green GDP' which factors in theenvironmental costs of economic development. The energy sector is keyto this. China is seeking more aggressively to curb pollution andaddress rapidly growing energy demands. The 2003 NPC ordered thedrafting of a Renewable Energy Promotion Law by the end of 2004. All ofwhich signals the intent of the Chinese government to draw in themassive amounts of clean energy investments and financing waiting to betapped from strong advocates of renewable energy like the EU.

This week saw two further examples of China's intent. Earlier thisweek a high level EU-China Conference on Renewable Energy Policy andFinancing took place in Beijing. This was followed by Renewable EnergyAsia 2004, running from 7th-9th April. This was both a landmarkindustry event and a great indicator of political intent as it wassupported and endorsed by many central government and internationalagencies.

Greenpeace was invited to erect a booth and to deliver apresentation at the exhibition and had an international team of energyexperts from China, UK, Philippines and the Netherlands at the event.The fact that we were invited shows the seriousness and deepeningengagement of the Chinese government with elements of the environmentalsector of civil society and that Greenpeace's relevance in China hasbeen recognised.

The reception Greenpeace received at and around the event wasoverwhelming. In the words of Red, one of the breathless Greenpeacerswho has just returned from the exhibition, "it was inspiring and a veryclear indication of the support that Renewable Energy has as thesolution to climate change, and of the role that Greenpeace can play".

Greenpeace's climate campaign efforts were warmly received and ourexhibition booth was inundated with visitors from officialdom,industry, academia and the media. Several officials working on BeijingOlympics 2008 projects demanded that we call them back, and the Dean ofBeijing's University of Technology told us that it was time forGreenpeace and China's academia to work together on renewable energy.

Ourteam in Beijing are all back in the office now taking a well earnedrest, especially Robin and Donna from the UK and Yu Jie from China.Robin is recovering from the experience of being interviewed by China'sstate broadcaster, CCTV, as he's just had his mind blown away onhearing the viewership figures. He's also recuperating after sloppinghot tea over an official at a dinner the previous night, although theonly burning was on Robin's blushing red cheeks. Donna can now put herlaptop away after 'blogcasting'from the exhibition. Yu Jie, who only started working with Greenpeaceone week ago, was both amazed at the experience, and amazing in thework she carried out in a short timeframe to prepare for the event. Toclose her presentation at the exhibition, Yu Jie showed two Chinesecharacters - one meaning danger (equalling climate change) and theother, opportunity (equalling renewable energy). She followed this withthe statement "the government of China has clearly recognised theproblem of climate change and is taking steps to push for solutions, sois Greenpeace - we should work together".

The support from the top for renewable energy development in China isdriven by the need to secure indigenous energy resources for thenation's huge population and growing economy. China is committed toavoiding the environmental costs of a burgeoning economy that someother nations have failed to. Contrast this with the current USAdministration's view of the Kyoto Protocol. The US continues topromote its bogus 'alternative', and Russia's dithering threatens theprotocol's future, while disappearing sea ice, melting glaciers,floods, famine and drought lend new urgency to the need for action onclimate.

The technologies are ready, the industry is growing, but cleargovernment commitments in the form of targets to generate financialconfidence and investment, from the EU and US in particular, arecritical. Conventional energy sources worldwide benefit from subsidiesworth around US$350 billion annually. That's US$350 billion a year todestroy the planet and that doesn't include the human, environmental orfinancial costs of the damage done. Just imagine if those subsidies fordirty, dangerous energy were switched to developing clean, safe,secure, renewable energy resources in China, India, Brazil and Mexico.

China's energy consumption is huge and the challenges the centralgovernment face in providing energy to its people and industry aremind-blowing. But, if China follows the same development pattern as thewest the problem will become much worse. China could lead the world.

If China does adopt large scale renewable energy production, thiswill boost worldwide markets, speed up technological advances and allowChina to not only tip the balance of the global market, but of ourplanet's ecological equilibrium as well.