China is installing almost the same number of solar panels and wind turbines as the rest of the world, and is on track to meet its clean energy target six years early. It is using renewable energy to meet almost all of the increase in its power needs.
Yet there’s another side to that rapid expansion, which is causing consternation in Washington at a crucial time for climate diplomacy: China is also building new power plants that burn coal, the dirtiest part of the fossil fuel. Which dwarfs the rest. Of the World.
China accounts for one-third of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions – more than the emissions of North America, Central America, South America, Europe and Africa combined.
John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate change, will join his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, for talks starting Friday at the Sunnylands estate in Southern California, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. Preparing to host. To discuss plan details. President Barack Obama and China’s leader Xi Jinping launched a joint effort for climate action in Sunnylands a decade ago.
“Sunnyland is a symbolic place – it’s where the first US-China climate seeds were sown,” said Li Shuo, policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia.
Two weeks later, when Mr Biden is expected to meet Mr Xi in San Francisco at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries summit, climate will likely be on the agenda. World leaders will then gather in Dubai in early December for COP28, the latest round of global climate talks.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the health of the planet depends on the actions of the United States and China. The United States has put the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past two centuries, and China is currently the biggest polluter. Their desire to cut emissions will inevitably determine whether the planet continues to dangerously warm, causing coral reefs to disappear, ice-free Arctic summers and widespread displacement from intense storms, floods and wildfires. .
But more than ever, decisions made in Beijing can outweigh those made in Washington or European capitals.
Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration climate official, said, “China’s annual emissions are so enormous that cutting them now is key to any hope of preventing global warming and climate disasters.”
In Shandong province, a peninsular center of heavy industry between Beijing and Shanghai, China’s energy decisions are clearly visible. Solar panels attached to giant wind turbines extend far along the province’s northern coast. More wind turbines and solar panels decorate the hills and corn fields in the interior. On rooftops and sometimes on south-facing walls of apartment towers, solar panels are installed to absorb the sun’s energy.
Solar power producers in Shandong generate more electricity than is demanded during the afternoon, which they sometimes have to pay the provincial transmission grid for accepting. They do this so that they can continue to collect government subsidies based on how many kilowatt-hours they produce.
In some ways, China has come further in tackling climate change than expected years ago. Mr Xi announced in December 2020 that China planned to triple its wind and solar capacity by 2030. Frank Haugwitz, a solar industry consultant who specializes in China data, said China is on track to reach that goal by the end of next year.
Chinese officials may announce greater renewable energy ambitions as the current target approaches. However, US officials are more concerned about China’s coal development, and are unlikely to praise new clean energy pledges that are not coupled with aggressive measures to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
Climate experts say that because of China’s size, if it does not turn away from coal, its solar and wind energy may not be enough to combat climate change.
“You would be crazy if you were trying to push this issue globally without focusing on coal,” Mr. Kerry said in Beijing this summer.
Mr Kerry has said the United States and China agree that countries should cut back on coal faster, but not on how fast.
Chinese officials have defended coal-fired plants as necessary for national energy security. The country imports most of its oil and natural gas but has the largest reserves of coal.
China argues that its coal plants are designed to reduce overall emissions and make it possible for China to use more renewable energy. The government requires that new coal-fired plants are no longer built to essentially run at full capacity. They must also have the ability to scale their electricity production up and down to compensate for booms and busts in renewable energy. China has also retrofitted almost all older power plants to allow similar flexibility, said Zhang Jianyu, executive director of the BRI International Green Development Institute, an environmental group in Beijing.
China has invested heavily in transmission over the past few years to connect more parts of the country to its solar farms and wind turbines. In August, the most recent month data is available, 97.8 percent of electricity produced by wind and 98.8 percent of solar power was used – a sign that China is deploying its renewable energy effectively.
Nate Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, said it is important for China to work on grid reliability – an issue that could determine whether China uses all the coal it develops.
“If they figure out how to run their grid with higher levels of renewable energy and better efficiency, that will relieve some of the pressure on the need to use coal,” said Mr. Hultman, a former aide to Mr. Kerry. “The real climate consequences depend on how you manage that grid.”
On the western outskirts of Weifang, a city in northern Shandong, Minghui Photovoltaic Power Generation Co. and other nearby solar providers were ordered to halt new installations for at least three months until the grid is operational, a manager at the company said. Said, who agreed to this. Speak only when identified by his surname Wu.
Geography and weather patterns present challenges for China in reducing coal use. Most of the country’s large, energy-thirsty cities are in areas where wind is at a minimum. This makes solar power generation and efficient transmission to and from other regions important.
In contrast, the seaside is windy.
In Weifang, which hosts international kiteboarding competitions, hundreds of wind turbines stand in tidal pools along the city’s 70 miles of coastline. It has been difficult for China to build turbines miles from the ocean, as Europe has done, because much of the seabed is soft and dirty.
One reason for China’s rapid deployment of renewable energy is favorable zoning laws and public support. Approvals for renewable energy are issued immediately, unlike the often lengthy processes in the United States, where one county scheduled 19 nights of meetings to debate a wind farm.
Sharp improvements in air quality in China have also helped build public support for renewable energy — though scientists say more stringent pollution limits on factories, boilers and vehicles have played a central role in cleaning up the country’s air. . From 2013 to 2021, China reduced fine particle pollutants by 42 percent, according to a University of Chicago analysis of satellite images.
Zhu Peng, a fertilizer salesman who went fishing on Weifang Beach on a recent morning, said she welcomed the wind turbines hovering nearby.
“For us, it’s the view,” she said. “I don’t think it’s disturbing at all. Otherwise, we will not see anything except water and rocks.”
li yu Contributed to research.