From red to green— China


It builds one new coal power plant every week, and is the largest emitter of carbon emissions in the world. But as world leaders gather for Copenhagen’s climate change conference, China is also the nation that could save the planet.

Environment, Manufacturing, Technology

An hour from Shanghai by train, past freshly sprouted skyscrapers on either side of the tracks, is the office of up-and-coming solar-panel manufacturer, Trina Solar. Every morning, hundreds of young workers whirr into the Changzhou industrial estate on electric motorbikes and plug them into a solar-powered charging unit outside Trina’s plant, before they file into the shiny modern buildings. The young technicians are part of the new generation riding the wave of China’s economic growth.

Dozens of recently hired workers march up and down outside the…

COP15: the facts

In December, world leaders gather in Copenhagen to negotiate a new climate control deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol. It’s already looking as though a deal may be hard to reach.

Tell us who’s has been invited? Some 192 countries, five observer states, more than 50 international organisations and confederations and over 750 non-governmental organisations.

What’s the goal? A climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Forty seven countries consented to the emissions targets set in that agreement in 1997 (the first phase of the treaty expires in 2012). Copenhagen has set itself a target of at least 180 signatory nations. Most scientists agree that we must cut emissions to 80 per cent of 1990 levels to limit climate change.

What are the big questions they’ll be pondering? How much can industrialised countries cut emissions? How much can developing countries, such as China, limit the growth of emissions? Oh, and that tricky one, whose fault is it all?

Who are the key players? The most important nations are China and the US, the two biggest producers of greenhouse gases. For any strategies to be successful, they must be supported by both countries – both have been reluctant to name targets. China and India believe it’s the responsibility of wealthier nations such as the US and the UK to set an example. Similarly, industrialised nations, by outsourcing their manufacturing elsewhere in the world, are seen by countries like China as effectively exporting their problems

Give me some hard data: Look at CO2 emissions to see who’ll be in the hot seat at Copenhagen. In the USA the figure stands at 20 tonnes, China 5 tonnes, India 2 tonnes, North Africa less than 1 tonne. The largest percentage increase since 1990 is Belize which is up 213 per cent. The prize for the largest percentage decrease since 1990 goes to the Solomon Islands, down 66 per cent. And 17 countries are responsible for 80 per cent of all emissions.

Why else do we need a deal? Cheer yourself up with comments of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It says that climate change can lead to increases in the frequency of hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation and the possible elimination of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7m. And in Africa, by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to water stress due to climate change.

Electric dreams

The city of Changzhou has dramatically cut back air pollution by banning gas-fuelled motorbikes in the city centre. Instead, thousands of workers in the city of 3.5 million people head to work on electric bikes. China is now the world’s number one market for electric bikes, with 65m on the road – more than the number of passenger vehicles. Yearly production of electric bikes is now 22m, up from 200,000 eight years ago.

Changzhou is also a hub for the solar industry, thanks to Trina Solar. To boost the industry, the city has set aside land to expand the industrial park for companies making components used in the manufacture of solar panels and has made the development of the renewable energy industry one of its top goals, according to Dai Xiaowen, vice-director of the Changzhou National Hi-tech District.

Changzhou local government also plans energy saving measures at government departments, schools, hospitals and in street lighting, he says.


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