Despite its reputation for extreme urban pollution, China may very well be on its way to becoming one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable countries. As part of the country’s 12th Five Year Plan for Economic and Social Development, China will be investing 1.8 trillion yuan (about $320 billion) into national efforts to counter climate change. This large investment into sustainable development is part of the country’s larger pledge to cut carbon emissions by 45% from 2005 levels by the end of the decade.
One of the major ways China will spend its 1.8 trillion yuan is on carbon emission regulations. China’s environment ministry has already passed legislation that will put in place stricter controls on vehicle and industry pollution. Alongside these industry regulations, China has also asked several cities and provinces to put in place regional caps on emissions in an attempt to add more domestic regulations. The country will be expanding the regions that fall under this pilot program in order to explore the potential for a national system.
Another way that China is slowly developing sustainable habits is in its investment into renewable energy. Indeed, China’s vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission has stated that the country will be investing almost 2.3 trillion yuan in key energy-saving and emission-reducing projects in the coming years. This investment into renewable energy is part of the larger five-year plan to have 100 GW of wind and 35 GW of solar energy by 2015. These numbers will likely change as solar overtakes wind as the world’s most invested renewable energy source. Despite these setbacks, China will still be pushing forward its goal to have 20% of its energy come from renewable energy by 2020.
Interestingly, China has also shown that it is willing to become an international leader in sustainable development. Over the last decade, China has invested more than $40 billion in renewable energy projects from around the globe. Most of these investments were for developed countries such as US, Germany, and Italy, and is likely a way for leaders in renewable energy development to help one another in their energy projects. However, some countries, like South Africa, Pakistan, and Ethiopia, have also attracted significant investments as their energy sectors mature. Overall, these programs have helped generate over 6000 MW of renewable energy worldwide.
If current political trends and social drivers are any indication of where China is heading in the future, then we may very well be in good hands. Despite its history as a large carbon polluter, China does seem to be eager to learn from its mistakes – and to help other countries learn from it too. If these domestic and overseas investments continue, China can substantially contribute to the development of a global, low-carbon economy.