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Why Is China Investing So Much in U.S. Solar and Wind?

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.

U.S.-China cooperation on clean energy was the topic of discussion at an event last week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s China Environment Forum. Experts from the World Resources Institute and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) looked at this cooperation from a seldom-discussed viewpoint – China’s renewable energy investments in the United States.

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.

China Invests Billions in International Renewable Energy Projects

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.

This investment is consistent with a broader trend of major emerging economies like China, India, and Brazil becoming important sources of global overseas invest¬ments. WRI’s new working paper, China’s Overseas Investments in the Wind and Solar Industries: Trends and Drivers, helps to better understand China’s renewable energy investments overseas, as well as the policy and market forces that drive them.

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.

How Are China’s Overseas Investments Affecting the Environment?

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 U.S. Contribution to Fast-Start Finance

FY12 Update

This fact sheet updates a May 2012 working paper on the U.S. fast-start finance (FSF) contribution over the 2010-2012 period. It analyzes the financial instruments involved in the U.S. self-reported portfolio—about $7.5 billion, or 20 percent of the total FSF commitment globally. It also...

5 Steps to Improve the World Bank’s Social and Environmental Safeguards

The World Bank’s annual spring meetings take place this week in Washington, D.C. One big topic on the agenda is how to update the World Bank’s “safeguard” policies. Created in the early 1990s, these policies ensure that the Bank considers the social and environmental effects of proposed projects. For example, the safeguards require those borrowing money to assess the project’s environmental impacts and to compensate households who are negatively affected.

The full suite of safeguards is now under review for the first time. Among other things, the Bank hopes to make its safeguard policies reflect changes in the global economic and political landscape that have occurred in recent decades.

World Bank Safeguards vs. National Safeguards

One question on the table is how the World Bank safeguards should interact with national systems already in place in recipient countries. Since the creation of the Bank’s safeguards, many countries have strengthened their own rules and institutions to ensure that large-scale projects are implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment. These include, for instance, laws requiring environmental impact assessments, or government agencies to oversee land use changes. Relying on these domestic systems can potentially improve protection of people and the environment. National laws, for example, allow governments and citizens to work within their own familiar structures, and they’re sometimes more appropriate for local circumstances than Bank policies.

3 Ways to Unlock Climate Finance

Ministers and senior officials from developed countries will gather this Thursday in Washington, D.C. to tackle one of the world’s foremost challenges: how to mobilize private sector capital to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing countries and help them adapt to climate change’s impacts. The meeting, organized by the U.S. State Department, comes on the heels of another meeting of climate finance experts and researchers in Paris, organized by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This global attention on climate finance comes at a critical moment: Research shows that the world will need to invest at least $5.7 trillion in clean water, sustainable transport, renewable energy, and other green infrastructure annually by 2020 in order to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. We’re currently directing only about $360 billion annually toward these activities.

While these discussions are necessary, what’s more important is whether or not ministers and officials are talking about the right issues and asking the right questions. Addressing three questions—on the correct investment figures, the most effective policy and financing tools, and the importance of collaboration—will be critical to ensure that the April 11th Ministerial Meeting on Mobilizing Climate Finance achieves meaningful results.

Why Is Climate Finance So Hard to Define?

This is the first installment of our blog series, Climate Finance FAQs. The series explores the often nebulous world of climate finance, providing clarity on some of the key terms and current issues. Read more posts in this series.

Surprising as it may sound, there is no standard definition of climate finance. In fact, there are many differing views on what type of funding constitutes climate finance, how it should be delivered, and how much money developing nations will need to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. This vortex of information can be confusing to navigate. Here, we'll do our best to break down all of the components that define “climate finance.”

Defining Climate Finance: Broadly to Narrowly

In its broadest interpretation, climate finance refers to the flow of funds toward activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or help society adapt to climate change’s impacts. It is the totality of flows directed to climate change projects—the same way that “infrastructure finance” refers to the financing of infrastructure, or “consumer finance” refers to providing credit for purchases of big-ticket household items.

The term is most frequently used in the context of international political negotiations on climate change. In this context, climate finance—or international climate finance—is used to describe financial flows from developed to developing countries for climate change mitigation/adaptation activities, like building solar power plants or walls to protect from sea level rise. This interpretation builds off the premise that developed countries have an obligation to help developing countries transform their economies to become less carbon-intensive and more resilient to climate change.

The Private Sector and International Development: A Love Affair, or Cold Feet?

The private sector is a crucial partner in advancing sustainable development, and bilateral aid agencies are grappling with ways to learn from and leverage the activities of companies and markets. As the worlds of business and of aid increasingly intersect—and as development budgets are reined in even as demands on them grow—the pressure is to do more in partnership with the private sector. The real challenge, though, is to do better.

This was the headline message from a recent roundtable discussion with representatives from nine bilateral donor agencies and invitees from the private sector, co-organized by WRI and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London (see notes from the roundtable).

Both sides desire a strengthened relationship. Donor agencies see the private sector as an indispensable partner for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of aid. Agencies are looking for important sources of ideas, technology, and financing to scale up development solutions.

One example is the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), which is funded by the Australian, British, Danish, Dutch, and Swedish aid agencies. AECF is improving livelihoods of poor people in rural Africa by supporting innovation and new business models to help small-scale farmers adapt to climate change and promote investment in the generation of low-cost, clean, renewable energy.

Private sector actors seek clearer policy signals and more consistent support from donor agencies, particularly in understanding and navigating local politics. They also seek opportunities to develop new products and new markets, benefiting from the “de-risking” role that the public sector can play.

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