China: Moving at Green Speed

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on September 12, 2017
Vicky Harris
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“Japan May Still Surpass the U.S. to Become Leading Economic Power by the Year 2000.” That was the headline that the Chicago Tribune wrote on April 10, 1995, as it reviewed Eamonn Fingleton’s book, “Why Japan is Still on Track to Overtake the U.S. Economy by the Year 2000.” Back then, world economists focused on the inevitable rise of this island nation to the number one position. Their predictions were aided, in part, by futurist Herman Kahn’s 1970 book entitled, “The Emerging Japanese Superstate.”

Do not be surprised by a meteoric rise of a green China.

Meanwhile, 3,045 km to the west, away from the attention of futurists and economic gurus, China is quietly working to reclaim its historical place as a superpower. We all know how that story unfolded. It was China, and not Japan, who became the leading economic power right behind the U.S. in just a couple of decades. Unfortunately, the meteoric industrialization and economic rise of the world’s most populated country came with a significant cost for our planet: pollution.

The Rise of China

According to an interesting analysis from Global Research, we should not be surprised by China’s ascendance. After all, it dominated the world’s economy for 700 years between 1100 and 1800. It was around the mid-1800s when its tiny neighbor, Japan, became a powerful country that successfully overtook China as the regional superpower in all aspects, a position briefly suspended for a short period following WWII. By the 1960s, it seemed clear that Japan had recaptured its position and a decade later, it was the industrialization of Japan, not China, that occupied the attention of the rest of the world.

Nobody could have predicted the rapid rise of China’s economy just a couple of decades ago. In the 1990s, most economists concluded that their 1.1 billion people would keep the country busy focusing on just sustaining such a large population. In fact, if you visited then, there were far more bicycles than cars on the roads.

Professor James Petras from Global Research gives an insightful description of China at the beginning of the current decade:

“China has been growing at about 9% per annum and its goods and services are rapidly rising in quality and value. In contrast, the U.S. and Europe have wallowed around 0% growth from 2007-2012. China ’s innovative techno-scientific establishment routinely assimilates the latest inventions from the West (and Japan ) and improves them, thereby decreasing the cost of production. China has replaced the U.S. and European controlled “international financial institutions” (the IMF, World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank) as the principle lender in Latin America. China continues to lead as the prime investor in African energy and mineral resources. China has replaced the U.S. as the principle market for Saudi Arabian, Sudanese and Iranian petroleum and it will soon replace the U.S. as the principle market for Venezuela petroleum products. Today, China is the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter, dominating even the U.S. market, while playing the role of financial life line as it holds over $1.3 trillion in U.S. Treasury notes.”

Although the 9% growth rate is slowing down, this position is roughly the same.

The Rise of Green China

Most of us have seen the new normal for the citizens of Beijing: dense smog that requires people to wear masks every day. China is the country with the highest CO2 emissions in the world—more than double that of the second highest emitter, the U.S. Their industrialization efforts have also polluted their waterways and their ground. The country faces a serious environmental emergency, and they know it.

If history is any guide, we are likely to see a green revolution in China of the same speed and magnitude as their economic rise. According to a recent Project Syndicate article, the country is taking serious actions to clean up its environmental act. The article states, “At the start of 2017, China announced that it would invest $360 billion in renewable energy by 2020 and scrap plans to build 85 coal-fired power plants. In March, Chinese authorities reported that the country was already exceeding official targets for energy efficiency, carbon intensity, and the share of clean energy sources. And just last month, China’s energy regulator, the National Energy Administration, rolled out new measures to reduce the country’s dependence on coal.”

China, a major driving force behind the Paris Climate Agreement, has already begun to bring its CO2 emissions way down. In June, China and the EU announced their determination to “lead the energy transition” toward a low-carbon economy. Both economies know that the technology and scale are already there to be able to achieve their ambitious goals without growth compromises.

Hydrogen in China

As elsewhere in the world, the country is also working to develop hydrogen energy solutions. In fact, almost a decade ago, China showcased its first hydrogen-powered buses at the Beijing Olympic Games. According to a report two weeks ago, “Zhangjiakou and Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in 2022 and by then, SinoHytec [the same company behind the Beijing Olympics 2008 buses] will build a comprehensive system for using hydrogen as a fuel in Zhangjiakou and construct an expressway with hydrogen refueling stations for cars between the two cities.”

This company has already begun operating China’s first automated production line for hydrogen fuel cell engines, which may benefit its equally forward-looking neighbor when it comes to hydrogen—Japan, home of the successful Toyota Mirai hydrogen car. Chinese cities like Beijing desperately need clean energy choices; the addition of hydrogen to its mix of fuels for transportation, heating, and electricity is a right step in that direction.

Historic rivals China and Japan have both risen to occupy top economic positions at unprecedented speeds. The environmental costs of this growth have been quite significant for the quality of life of their citizens and the sustainability of our planet as a whole. The prediction of a green China, based on the country’s commitment and firm actions to reduce its carbon footprint through the fast adoption of renewables, is one we all want to see realized.

 

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
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