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China’s carbon leap forward?

China could overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases this year or next year. That is the startling recent conclusion drawn by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

According to Dr Fatih Birol, chief IEA economist, “If China maintains strong growth for the next quarter of a century – its economy grew by over 11 per cent in the first quarter of this year alone- its emissions alone until 2030 will be double that of all other industrialized countries combined. A sobering thought, indeed.

However, Birol is not advocating that China slows its economic development to curb greenhouse gas emissions rather a change of approach to energy production is required. “If they were to use much more sustainable policies and energy efficiency it would be good both for China’s economy and for climate change.”

Unsurprisingly China has hit back angrily, calling the claim “complete nonsense” and an attempt to pressure it on future global negotiations on the climate change issue. China has signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, but refuses to accept mandatory cuts in emissions arguing it have an impact on its economic growth.

There is no getting away from the fact that China is heavily dependent on coal for its energy. It is estimated that around 70 per cent of the electricity that drives its growing economy comes from coal fired power stations. Furthermore, 550 coal plants are planned or under construction. So if the inter-national community want to tackle climate change it does need China onboard.

But is China sticking its head in the sand with regard to climate change or is the tide beginning to turn?

In late April, the Chinese government published its National Climate Change Assessment Report, which concluded that climate change would have a major impact on several regions in the country, but it still warned warned of the negative impact the curbing greenhouse gases could have on its economic growth.

Nontheless, its politician are certainly ‘talking the talk’ in the international arena. Earlier this year, premier Wen Jiabao said that China needed to do more for the environment. He promised to shutdown large polluters and implement tougher regulations. Although there has been no movement on the latter, its National Development and Reform Commission is to gradually reduce feed-in tariffs for small, inefficient thermal power plants.

China also has said it wishes to generate more of its energy from nuclear, and has plans to build 30 new plants in the next 15 years.

Furthermore, its policymakers have said they want to generate more of the country’s electricity from renewable sources, and it has announced plans to add 3 GW of wind power capacity between 2006-2010. An example of its keenest to invest in wind power is the recent announcement by the China National Offshore Oil, that is it after international partners for offshore wind power generation projects.

Although coal fired power generation will continue as the dominant energy form, China is investing in clean coal technologies. It is said to have 80 per cent of the world’s state-of-the-art supercritical boilers, which will reduce emissions significantly from its new coal fired power stations. So positive moves are afoot.

However, in April China said it was delaying a national action plans on climate change, but did not give a new date for publication, so certainly on climate change, CO2 emissions and the environment China does seem to be sending out somewhat of a mixed message.

I’ll sign off by wishing all those attending POWER-GEN Europe later this month an enjoyable and successful event.

Best regards,

Heather Johnstone
Senior Editor