COP21 – the much-anticipated international climate conference in Paris – is underway, and people can’t stop talking about China.
China was largely blamed for the failure to come to a binding agreement on emissions targets in Copenhagen in 2009, and China has been an obstacle to climate progress because it insisted on being permitted to fuel its economic growth and development with fossil fuels because of their classification as a developing nation – until now.
China’s climate approach has done a 180, which has the world taking notice – in fact, China’s 2014 announcement that it will reach peak emissions by 2030 is credited with giving 150+ other countries the confidence to make their own emissions pledges prior to these Paris negotiations. That alone is a big deal and great step forward.
What really caught my attention in the flurry of news about China was this quote from Xie Zhenhua, the leader of China’s climate delegation:
“We can seek a different way through ecologically driven wealth generation.” — Xie Zhenhua
China (wisely) recognizes the tremendous economic opportunity that is currently on the table, and they’re going after it. The transition away from fossil fuels calls for a major paradigm shift in our energy infrastructure – worldwide; and, such a paradigm shift opens the door for innovation and new technology leaders. China is grabbing this new opportunity by the horns, building “the clean energy equivalent of one coal-fired power station every week.”
And, China has good reason to focus on renewables – not only is China the world’s largest emitter of CO2, but they are also losing one million citizens each year due to smog and unhealthy air conditions arising from coal use. (Have you seen these latest pictures from Beijing??)
— Greenpeace East Asia (@GreenpeaceEAsia) December 1, 2015
There are some who believe China’s motives may not all be altruistic – Isabel Hilton of ChinaDialogue.net surmised that China believes its climate commitments will both stimulate and capture a huge new global manufacturing market for clean energy equipment. But, regardless of the motives, the outcome of this new commitment to climate action is desirable – lower global emissions and easier access to clean energy technology (which has the added benefit of helping developing nations expand electricity access and fuel growth and development with clean energy, rather than fossil fuels).
Plus, it reinforces what I’ve long believed — transitioning to clean energy doesn’t have to mean economic sacrifices; clean energy can bring about a healthy environment and healthy profits.