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China's Cognitive Dissonance
on Energy & Climate

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Shanghai at night

The statistics of environmental breakdown in China
In China, 14,000 new cars enter circulation every day, 52,000 miles of roads are under construction, 70% of electricity is generated from coal, and a new coal-fired plant comes online nearly every week. Seventy five percent of urban residents breathe grossly polluted air; it kills 750,000 people annually.

Twenty percent of the water used in in urban China is lost through leaky pipes. Shanghai and Tianjin have sunk six feet over the last 15 years as precious underground water reserves are used up, causing skyscrapers to tilt and encouraging coastal flooding. In Beijing, factories, buildings and pipelines have all been destroyed through plundering underground aquifers, resulting in land subsidence. 

The country, roughly the same size as the United States, is 20% desert, which is advancing at more than 1,300 square miles a year. Entire villages in China's north have been submerged in sand by encroaching desert. The country's State Forestry Administration estimates that desertification affects 400 million Chinese, many of whom lose the ability to farm their land or graze their animals, joining tens of millions of internal environmental refugees, who often migrate to big cities in search of new homes and jobs.

It is often argued that once China lifts itself out of poverty it can then turn to protecting its environment. However at current rates of degradation, there will be little or no environment left worth protecting by the time its growth fetish is satisfied. As pressure on China's leaders mounts from its own population (there are more than 50,000 environmental disputes in China every year), the rest of the world is increasingly impatient with the country's failure to turn its environmental situation around. Pollutants that build up and threaten China's ecosystem and the health of its people also traverse the Pacific and affect the United States and other countries. China's contribution to global climate change has begun to dwarf that of the rest of the world. It already ranks as the world's largest importer of illegally logged timber and the biggest polluter of the Pacific Ocean. (Source: CNN) 

 

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Encroaching desert in Inner Mongolia

300 years to turn back China's desertification
An area of China the size of America's Rhode Island is lost to desertification each year. At the current rate of progress it will take 300 years to turn back the country's advancing deserts, a senior official has stated, bemoaning the low level of investment in fighting the environmental disaster. "The area of land being desertified is enormous, and prevention work is exceptionally difficult," Liu Tuo, head of China's anti-desertification efforts, told a news conference in December 2010. "There is about 1.73 million square km of desertified land in China, of which about 530,000 square km can be treated. At our present rate of treating 1,717 square km a year, I've just calculated we'll need 300 years. Investment is wholly insufficient, with a huge gap currently existing for our needs".

In some parts of China, which Liu did not name, regional governments are not taking the problem seriously enough. "They say it is important, but their actions show that's not the case...while climate change is exacerbating the problem, through drought that aggravates desertification." (Source: Reuters)


Weather extremes in 2010 
In 2010, China experienced the most frequent and severe weather extremes of the decade. Chen Zhenlin, spokesman for the China Meteorological Administration, said the case numbers of extremely high temperature days and extreme precipitation had rarely been seen in history; as were the intensity and the area effected by these extreme weather events.

The country experienced the longest hot spell since 1961, as the national average number of days of extremely hot weather climbed to 3.5 days more than normal. Average temperature reached a historical high of 2 degrees Celsius higher than normal. Average daily precipitation at China's 97 meteorological stations was the highest ever, and the annual number of cases of extreme rainfall was the largest since 1961. No less than 7 tropical cyclones made landfall in southern China. (Source: Xinhua)


Global warming is responsible 
The number of extreme weather events in China has been increasing since 2000, and in 2010, the country experienced the most serious consequences to date. In summer there were an average of 10 days with temperatures at or above 35C. South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Southwest China's Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces and Chongqing municipality suffered the most severe drought in 100 years. And in North China's Shanxi province and East China's Anhui province, another round of drought started in September 2010.

Extreme rainstorms followed the hot summer weather. Ninety-seven weather stations around China reported record-breaking daily rainfall, and 133 broke annual records. More than half the tropical hurricanes formed typhoons and hit coastal regions in East and South China; the highest landfall ratio in history. "In the past 12 months, we experienced extreme weather more often than in any other year of the past decade. Global warming was largely to blame," said Chen Zhenlin, director of emergency response, disaster mitigation and public services department of the CMA. "The common point of these extreme weather events was their close connection to heavier rain, which results from climate change". (Source: China Daily)


A long-awaited energy plan 
Chinese state media is reporting that the National Energy Administration has finalized a 10-year new energy development plan that requires a cumulative investment of 5 trillion yuan ($740 billion) to realize.  The plan provides a strategy to help China realize its goals of deriving 15% of primary energy mix from non-fossil sources, and also reduce its carbon intensity by 45% by 2020. It will be sent to the State Council for approval.

This plan seems to be China’s long-awaited new energy stimulus plan and provides almost double the investment dollars expected. Most likely, this amount represents total investment by combination of central, provincial and local governments in addition to the private sector. The details released so far are still impressive. A comprehensive breadth of sectors fall under China's “new energy” concept–not just renewables like wind and solar but also energy efficiency, nuclear, smart grid, transportation, unconventional natural gas, and more efficient use of fossil fuels. (Source: Green Leap Forward)


World’s largest wind power capacity
China now has the world's highest wind power capacity, having added 62% (16GW) of new capacity last year alone. The country's total installed wind power capacity reached 42GW at the end of last year, said Li Junfeng, secretary general of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association. By comparison, installed wind capacity in the United States increased to 40GW at the end of 2010. Wind power capacity connected to grid networks totalled 23GW at the end of August 2010, according to the China Electricity Council. Some wind farms have been working far below capacity as local grid capacity is unable to accommodate intermittent sources. Some wind turbines have even stood idle from day one because of lack of grid access. China's National Energy Administration is considering how to ensure grid connections for a planned wind power capacity of 90GW in 2015. (Source: Reuters)


Soaring economy undermines climate & energy goals
In 2009, experts at the International Energy Agency proposed a target for China’s carbon emissions to peak in 2020 before declining, if the world were to be saved from devastating climate change. It’s too late for that scenario now. Figures from BP showed earlier this year that Chinese emissions will steamroll through the Paris-based IEA’s 2020 peak target next year, nearly a decade early with no sign of slowing down.

China is promoting what it calls ambitious plans to boost energy efficiency and curb emissions. But its supercharged growth means even with rapid efficiency gains it cancels out other global efforts to combat climate change.  China already emits a quarter of the world’s CO2, the main gas contributing to global warming, making it the world’s top emitter, ahead of the United States. Its emissions have more than doubled since 2000.

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