Challenging China’s Green Leap Forward

Despite all of the progress touted by Chinese authorities in their drive to become the global leader in solar energy, The Nation’s Lucia Green-Weiskel writes that China’s clean-tech industry still faces major hurdles. She details three recent developments that have undermined Beijing’s quest for low-carbon growth: First, the inauguration of pro-market president Xi Jinping marks a shift away from the conservation-oriented, government-planned approach of his predecessor toward a model marked by increased privatization, including tax cuts for private enterprises, relaxed political controls, programs to boost domestic consumption and intensified resource exploitation. Xi insists that low-carbon growth will remain a priority and that the ambitious energy-saving targets of the twelfth Five Year Plan, issued in March 2011, will be met. But the targets were written in such a way that many of the details for implementation are open to interpretation. While the government had previously signaled that it would rely on growth in wind and solar to meet its goal (11.4 percent of total energy from renewable sources by 2015), it now looks like the bulk of that will come from nuclear and hydroelectric. Wind and solar are growing, but as a proportion of China’s total energy expenditure, coal is growing much faster. … Second, shifts in US energy consumption patterns, as well as changes in estimates of global oil reserves, will affect China’s long-term energy strategy. The International Energy Agency reports that discoveries of shale gas combined with new drilling technologies will make the United States the world’s largest oil producer by 2020. This is expected to make oil reserves in the Middle East and Central Asia newly available to China—which could reverse the shortage-driven incentive structure that promoted growth in China’s renewable energy sector. At the same time, China discovered that it may have the largest shale gas reserves ...
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