Monday, February 7, 2011

China can School the US About Green Growth

America is often viewed as the preeminent world leader, but when it comes to growing the green economy, the US can learn a lot from China. Although China is often criticized as being the world's largest CO2 emitter, it has an average emissions per capita well below those of wealthy economies.

Both China and the US have set emissions goals for 2020. The US has proposed a 17% cut in emissions from 2005 levels while China has proposed a 40% to 45% reduction in carbon intensity (per person) from 2005 levels. The World Resources Institute has said those two efforts would have about the same outcome.

However there is a major difference, China's goal is official policy, America's goal, although announced by the White House, is not official policy, nor has any legislation been passed to attain that goal.

China is making real progress in developing renewable power. In 2008, China got 9% of its energy from renewable resources. It has committed to raise that number to 15% by 2020. But recent reports show that if the current expansion rate continues, solar power alone could reach five or ten times the 15% target.

In 2007, 7% of US energy came from renewable resources and with any hope of legislation crushed by Republican gains in the midterm elections, that number is not likely to significantly increase in the short term.

Three years ago, China met its 20 percent energy efficiency goal and in 2010 and they are creating more stringent goals for 2020. The US has set no firm targets.

When it comes to fuel economy, China is also leading the US. In 2010, America set new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards at 35.5 miles per gallon, while China achieved an average fuel economy of 36.7 miles per gallon back in 2008.

The Chinese solar, wind and EV industries are leading the world. On the stock market, some of the best gains are coming from Chinese cleantech companies which are present in almost every sector.

As reported in YaleGlobal Online, a comparison of Chinese and US firms indicate that America has lost its competitive edge. In 1998, the US owned 25 percent of worldwide high-tech exports while China’s was less than 10 percent. By 2008, China’s share was 20 percent, with America’s below 15 percent.

The most revealing statistics come from a Bloomberg survey, created in collaboration with the UN Environment Program. This study indicates that China became the largest recipient of renewable energy financing in 2009, attracting more than 20 percent of the US$162 billion invested worldwide in wind, solar, biomass, small hydro, biofuel and marine energy. While such investment in China grew by 53 percent, in the US it shrank by 45 percent.

A study published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center found that, unlike the US, China coordinates and supports energy R&D through government owned enterprises.

By some estimates, investments in renewable-energy assets may total US$2.3 trillion by 2020. If America is to compete with China for the lucrative green market and all the jobs that come with it, the US will need to develop a much more coordinated approach.

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