How China is leading the world in solar energy production
In light of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, China could present itself as a new leader in the fight against climate change.
A statement from Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson said:
“China will stay committed to upholding and promoting the global governance on climate change, and take an active part in the multilateral process on climate change. We will work with all relevant parties to safeguard the outcomes of the Paris Agreement, press ahead with the negotiation and implementation of the enforcement rules, and promote green, low-carbon and sustainable growth of the world.”
China’s dependency on fossil fuels has long been decried as a heavy contributor to global carbon emissions. In 2016, estimates suggested that China was responsible for a third of the world’s total carbon emissions – having previously fuelled its economic growth through heavy coal usage in industrial sectors.
A report published by the World Health Organisation in 2016 revealed that China was the world’s deadliest country for air pollution. The study estimated that in 2012, more than 1 million people in China died due to complications as a direct result of dirty air. And yet, 2016 also saw a dramatic increase in China’s investment in renewable energy production – making it the biggest producer of solar power in the world.
In 2016, China’s solar energy production more than doubled. The National Energy Administration (NEA) reported that by the end of the year, China’s solar capacity rose to 77.42 gigawatts, with an additional increase of 34.54 throughout the year. Having surpassed Germany in terms of installed solar capacity in 2015, China’s ambitious plan for renewable energy investment shows no sign of losing momentum.
Last year, the COP22 Summit saw Chinese vice-foreign minister Liu Zhenmin speak out against claims that climate change was a “Chinese invention”, designed to decrease US manufacturing efficiency. As the United States drops climate change as a national imperative, China looks set to step forward as a world leader in progressive climate policy.
China’s commitment to renewable energy production is highlighted by the NEA’s solar development plan, which aims to further capitalise on China’s position as the world’s biggest solar energy producer. The 13th five-year plan for Chinese development aims to add more than 110 gigawatts of solar energy capacity by 2020.
China’s economic investment in renewable power is estimated to total 2.5 trillion yuan (upwards of £292 billion) by 2020, according to the NEA. While solar power currently only represents 1 per cent of China’s total energy output, this increase in investment is set to boost output from renewable energy from 11 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020. China’s significant investment in renewals is estimated to bring 13 million new jobs to the sector, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA).
This increased investment in renewables comes at a time when the relationship between air pollution and public health grows increasingly alarming. Smog, one of the most visible effects of air pollution, is full of microscopic particles known as PM2.5 and PM10. Upon inhaling dirty air, these particles find their way into the lungs and major organs. The World Health Organisation has attributed serious health conditions such as premature heart attacks, lung cancer, stroke and other respiratory problems to long-term exposure to the particles.
The correlation between fossil fuel combustion and particulate pollution is now a major influence on climate policy. In cities such as Beijing, thick smog has been seen to ignite a phenomenon known as ‘airpocalypse’. China’s position as a global leader in both carbon emissions and solar energy investment could mark a turning point – a movement away from coal and towards cleaner energies.
This article was originally published in February 2017 but has been updated to reflect recent events.