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Dirty China Spending Big to Get Clean


Chinese investment in clean energy jumped twenty percent last year, helping the world’s biggest producer and consumer of energy to vault past the US as the world’s top investor in clean tech, according to a new report by Pew Charitable Trusts:

In 2012, China advanced its position as the epicenter of clean energy finance, attracting $65.1 billion in investment, 20 percent more than in 2011 and an unsurpassed 30 percent of the G-20 total. It garnered 25 percent of all solar energy investment, setting a one-year record with $31.2 billion invested. China also accounted for 37 percent of all wind energy investment ($27.2 billion) and 47 percent of the investment in the “other renewable energy” category ($6.3 billion) that includes small hydro, geothermal, marine, and biomass.

China’s unprecedented economic growth hasn’t been kind to its environment. To power its sprawling array of megacities and factories, China burns almost half of the world’s coal. Its air has become so polluted that an exodus from Beijing has become a real concern. China’s smog has real, measurable costs: a 2007 World Bank report estimated that air pollution costs China 5.78 percent of its GDP every year in premature deaths, material damages and health care costs. An estimated 1.2 million people died in 2010 because of that dirty air.

China’s water is no better. Twenty-eight thousand rivers have vanished over the past few decades; more than half of China’s rivers with catchment areas greater than 100 square kilometers have disappeared. Much of the remaining water is polluted—thousands of dead ducks and pigs have been showing up in China’s rivers recently.

Investing in cleaner energy sources is a step in the right direction. China’s leadership recognizes the problem and can’t be blind to the growing unrest over its polluted land and water. Still, it’s going to take more than heavy spending to clear Beijing’s skies and clean Shanghai’s rivers.

This is good news for the US. Though we lost the top spot, we should be happy to let China take the lead on the development of wind and solar technologies. Those energy sources have a lot of potential but aren’t ready to compete on their own merits with fossil fuels. Here’s one area where we are content to let America lead from behind.

[Polluted Shanghai photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Luke Lea

    China needs scrubbers not solar reflectors. That’s obvious.

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