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China Begins Its Transition to a Clean-Energy Economy

"China begins its transition to a clean-energy economyChina's climate progress by the numbers(By Julian Wong, Andrew Light via Center for American Progress)A common refrain from climate action naysayers is that, "China is building
two coal-fired power plants a week!" They insist that the United States
should wait until this major emitter takes on binding commitments to
climate change mitigation before it decides to adopt global warming
pollution reduction policies in the American Climate and Energy Security
Act (H.R. 2454). They further claim that if such a bill became law, the
United States would be transferring its jobs to countries such as China and
India that are doing nothing to curb emissions. But that thinking is
exactly wrong.Critics fairly point to the fact that 80 percent of China's power is
derived from dirty coal, and that China recently surpassed the United
States as the word's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Yet China's per
capita emissions remain a fifth that of the United States, and its
historical cumulative per capita emissions from 1960 to 2005 are less than
one-tenth that of the United States.Still, the Chinese have recognized that it's climate inaction—not climate
legislation—that will lead to its own economic undoing. As the U.S.
Congress debates the merits of enacting renewable electricity and energy
efficiency standards, China has already forged ahead with building its own
low-carbon economy, laying the foundation for clean-energy jobsand
innovation.China ranked second in the world in 2007 in terms of the absolute dollar
amount invested in renewable energy, according to the Climate Group. It
spent $12 billion, which put it just behind Germany's$14 billion. These
investments have placed China among the world leaders in solar, wind,
electric vehicle, rail, and grid technologies. And now approximately 9
percent of China's $586 billion economic stimulus package will go toward
sustainable development (excluding rail and grid) projects.China is expected to unveil in the coming weeks another extensive and
unprecedented stimulus package—reported to be in the range of $440 billion
to $660 billion—dedicated solely to new energy development over the next
decade, including generous investments in wind, solar, and hydropower. If
those expectations are fulfilled, China could emerge as the unquestioned
global leader in clean-energy production, significantly increasing its
chances to wean its energy appetite off coal, and at the same time ushering
in an era of sustainable economic growth by exporting these clean-energy
technologies to the world.The bottom line: China is not there yet, but it is beginning to transition
to a clean-energy economy through a wide range of actions. The United
States should recognize China's efforts and encourage China to expand upon
them. We have sketched this claim before, but let's run though the numbers
in more detail.Energy efficiencyEnergy efficiency is China's primary energy priority. China just last year
revised its Energy Conservation Law to declare that it "implements an
energy strategy of promoting conservation and development concurrently
while giving top priority to conservation" (emphasis added). This emphasis
runs through many of China's policies.China aims to reduce energy intensity—the amount of energy consumed per
unit of gross domestic product—by 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. Each
province and provincial-level city has been assigned an energy intensity
reduction target ranging between 12 percent and 30 percent, and the
respective governors or mayors are held accountable to such targets. Their
success is part of the basis for their evaluation for promotion. China has
made steady progress toward reaching this goal, achieving a 10-percent
reduction of energy intensity by the end of 2008. If the goal is fully
realized, it will translate to an annual reduction from a business-as-usual
scenario of over 1 billion tons of carb"