By 2030, 221 Chinese cities will have at least one million residents. These fast-growing urban areas present an unprecedented opportunity to create global models for the sustainable, low carbon cities of tomorrow.
China’s 12th Five-Year Plan strongly promotes sustainable cities, and the coastal city of Qingdao is leading the way in translating this principle into action on the ground. WRI helped generate Qingdao’s blueprint for sustainable development, and brought its pioneering efforts to national attention.
Sustainable City Blueprint
In developing their growing city, Qingdao’s leaders sought to pursue economic growth while avoiding urban sprawl and the environmental problems such as air and water pollution that have plagued many Chinese cities.
The city government has developed a low-carbon strategy that includes more efficient energy and waste water use, transport systems that reduce congestion, and sustainable urban design. The blueprint lays the foundation for Qingdao to meet its target of reducing carbon intensity by 45% by 2020. To guide development, the city government has set specific emission reduction targets for each energy-intensive sector.
Qingdao has signed an agreement with French company Suez to upgrade its inefficient waste water system and with China Everbright Bank to improve Qingdao Harbor’s energy efficiency. The U.S. company, AECOM, is set to invest in developing a sustainable design blueprint for the city.
In December 2012, Qingdao was selected as a National Low-carbon Pilot City, which is initiated by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC); and National Low-carbon Transport Pilot City, initiated by the Ministry of Transport (MOT).
Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role
WRI’s work in China focuses strongly on low carbon cities. We work with China’s NDRC, MOT, Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and Ministry of Environmental Protection to design models that focus on efficient energy and land use, sustainable transport, and reliable, clean water supply.
In Qingdao, along with partners including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), we played a critical role in helping the city prioritize low-carbon development. Specifically, we generated an inventory of the city’s energy use, collected traffic data, developed sector scenarios, drew a technology roadmap, and recommended policies that the authorities adopted.
We also introduced Qingdao’s Development and Reform Commission (DRC) to the major companies now helping develop the city. In addition, WRI’s close ties with NDRC and other ministries helped bring Qingdao’s pioneering efforts to central government attention.
WRI will use the city’s lessons learned and best practices in seeking to scale up sustainable urbanization both in Chinese cities and other emerging countries.
A growing number of countries and companies now measure and manage their emissions through greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories. Cities, however, lack a common framework for tracking their own emissions—until now.
The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters—the United States and China—have been forging a growing bond in combating climate change. Just last week, President Obama and President Xi made a landmark agreement to work towards reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas. And both the United States and China are leading global investment and development of clean energy. The United States invested $30.4 billion and added 16.9 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2012. China invested $58.4 billion and added 19.2 GW in capacity.
China’s Growing Overseas Investments in Renewable Energy
As new WRI analysis shows, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011). The United States is the number one destination of these investments, hosting at least eight wind projects and 24 solar projects. The majority of the investments went into solar PV power plant and wind farm development, while a few investments went into manufacturing or sales support.
When President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping meet in California this week, they will be seeking to build trust and chart a course for improved relations. While tensions abound over various issues, clean energy and climate is one area where cooperation can work.
Last month, the United States and China released a statement declaring that joint action on climate change can “set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.” These two countries have the opportunity to tackle this global challenge, helping keep the world within 2 degrees Celsius of temperature rise, and embrace clean energy on the path to a low-carbon future.
Given the stakes, business leaders should be paying attention.
Clean energy is one of the most important growth sectors in the global economy. It has been projected that $2.3 trillion will be invested in clean energy by 2020, reaching $269 billion last year. China was the number world’s top clean energy investor in 2012, with a record $68 billion. China’s investments are not only within its borders. China’s total overseas investment in 2011 extended to over 130 countries and topped $60 billion.
It’s well-known that China ranks first in the world in attracting clean energy investment, receiving US$ 65.1 billion in 2012. But new analysis from WRI shows another side to this story: China is increasingly becoming a global force in international clean energy investment, too. In fact, the country has provided nearly $40 billion dollars to other countries’ solar and wind industries over the past decade.
China’s Overseas Wind and Solar Investments, By the Numbers
According to our research, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011), more than half of which were made in 2010 and 2011 (see Figure 1). Despite some gaps in the data that prevent us from generalizing about all of China’s wind and solar investments, we learned that:
Of the 54 investments for which financial data were available, the cumulative amount invested came to nearly US$40 billion.
China invested roughly US$10 billion in 16 wind projects and US$27.5 billion in 38 solar investments.
Of 53 investments with capacity data available, the cumulative installed capacity added was nearly 6,000 MW.
The majority of investments were in electricity generation. Several investments were made in manufacturing facilities and to establish sales and marketing offices.
Most of the investments were in developed countries. A huge amount went to the United States, as well as Germany, Italy, and Australia. A handful of developing countries—including South Africa, Pakistan, and Ethiopia—also attracted multiple investments.
As evidence of climate change mounts, President Obama has made it clear that tackling this issue will be a priority in his second term. Yet, as weeks go by, the administration has been slow to clarify its strategy. With each passing day, it becomes harder and more expensive to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, other global powers are moving forward--and many of them carry valuable lessons which American policymakers can look to. The most successful countries are showing national leadership, strong and consistent policies, and commitment to clean energy.
Where, then, are signs of progress on clean energy?
Germany’s Energiewende: Leading the Way
High on the list is Germany, whose ambitious energy transformation strategy--or “Energiewende”--aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 to 95 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. This will be achieved by enhancing energy efficiency, reducing primary energy consumption by 50 percent, and ramping up renewable energy to at least 80 percent of electricity consumption in the same time-frame.
Chinese overseas investments are rapidly increasing. As of 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investments (OFDI) spread across 132 countries and regions and topped USD 60 billion annually, ranking ninth globally according to U.N. Conference on Trade and Development statistics. A significant amount of this increasing OFDI goes to the energy and resources sectors—much of it in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
But there are two sides to China’s OFDI coin. On the one side, these investments can benefit China and recipient countries, generating revenue and improving quality of life. However, like any country’s overseas investments, without the right policies and safeguards in place, these investments can fund projects that harm the environment and local communities.
WRI‘s new issue brief surveys the progress and challenges China faces in regulating the environmental and social impacts of its overseas investments. I sat down with WRI senior associate and China expert, Hu Tao, to talk about China’s overseas investment landscape. Before joining WRI, Tao worked as a senior environmental economist with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). Here’s what he had to say:
The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies. They are also the two largest producers and consumers of coal, and the largest emitters of carbon dioxide. In recent years, however, their paths on coal have started to diverge.
Over the last few years, coal consumption has dropped dramatically in the United States, mainly due to low natural gas prices. In response to weak domestic demand, the U.S. coal industry has been rushing to find its way out to the international market. Last year, U.S. coal exports hit a historical high of 114 million metric tons.
However, it is worth noting that the shift away from coal in the U.S. may not be permanent. As my colleague, Kristin Meek, pointed out in an earlier blog post, coal use in the U.S. power sector was on the rise again towards the end of 2012, likely driven by the new uptick in natural gas prices.
On the other side of the globe, China’s appetite for coal continues to grow. In response, Chinese power companies are looking to tap the international coal market for sources that are more reliable and cost competitive. Among those markets is the United States. In 2012, China imported 290 million metric tons of coal. China was the third largest destination for U.S. coal exports, behind the Netherlands and the U.K.
Leading China experts and top media representatives participated in a ChinaFAQs briefing this past Friday to discuss how the country will address pressing environmental, climate, and energy challenges at home and globally in the coming years. At the National People’s Congress beginning March 5, 2013, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are expected to formally become China’s president and premier, respectively. Other top spots in China’s ministries will also be assigned, with implications for China’s future of low-carbon development and for the United States.
The briefing was one of ChinaFAQs’ events highlighting the reasons for China’s action on low-carbon energy, including: energy security, economic competitiveness through technological innovation, and climate and environmental impacts.
Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed a remarkable period of economic and human development: More than 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water; life expectancy has increased by approximately five years; more children are going to school, with 90 percent enrolled in primary education; and per capita income levels have doubled across developing countries.
China has experienced an even more profound transformation during this period. The country has sustained an annual GDP growth of around 10 percent. Five hundred million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. People's lives have visibly improved and there are more opportunities for them.
Yet, many challenges remain. With the world's expanding population, rapid economic growth, and booming middle class, the pressure on natural resources is mounting. The truth is the world is on an unsustainable path.
China is part of this problem, but it also must be part of the solution. China faces real challenges when it comes to the environment and natural resources. Demand for water is rapidly outpacing supply, with food, energy, and domestic use intensifying for this scarce resource. The need for affordable and clean energy is on the rise. China's rapidly expanding urban population is having a significant impact on transportation, energy, and water infrastructure.