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Outpacing its green due, China pursues leadership in new energy solutions
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15:31, July 21, 2009

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As Chinese President Hu Jintao and Chinese diplomats sat in a spacious hall in Beijing over the weekend to discuss diplomatic projects, they sacrificed the formality of suits and ties in favor of white dress shirts to better weather the warm temperatures inside the building -- a measure taken to help conserve energy.

The temperature in the room is set automatically to 26 degrees Celsius, or Fahrenheit 79, so the usual attire would make for a sweaty mission.

Two years ago, the Chinese cabinet regulated the lowest indoor temperature in all public venues during the summer to save energy, with the rare exception of diplomatic occasions or grand state ceremonies.

Premier Wen Jiabao met last week with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who were in China to advance bilateral cooperation on clean energy and energy efficiency technologies.

Wen's deputy, Vice Premier Li Keqiang told Secretary Chu, a Nobel laureate who is an avid advocate for clean energy, that China adhered the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" as it actively responds to global climate change.

"Common but differentiated responsibilities" refers to the responsibilities of both developed and developing countries in reducing their carbon footprints respective to their developmental abilities.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) notes "that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs."

The UNFCCC was signed by more than 150 countries at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and was approved by at least 192 countries.

George Washington University law professor David Freestone, who retired six months ago from the World Bank as a senior adviser and deputy general counsel, said in an e-mail interview with Xinhua, "I do not see it (the principle) as outdated."

Prof. Robert Stavins at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government also wrote to Xinhua, "The central feature of the principle is (that) all countries should be involved in addressing climate change, their burden in addressing climate change need not be the same, and their relative burdens could be related to their stage of economic development."

Data from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)showed from 1950 to 2000 greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized countries accounted for 77 percent of the world total while China contributed about nine percent.

Between 1850 and 2005, the U.S. emitted 27 percent of the world's total carbon dioxide, Russia and China both eight percent, Germany seven percent, the United Kingdom six percent, Japan four percent and India two percent, according to the Global Environment and Energy in the 21st Century, or GEE-21, a Honolulu, Hawaii-based nonprofit organization that conducts research and educational activities dealing with issues of resource management and environment.

Even though China's per capita carbon dioxide emissions were about only one-fifth of those in the United States, the 1.3-billion population and the rapidly-growing economy makes China the second largest emitter next to the U.S.


Cooperating with the world to address global climate change, China looks toward renewable energy sources and stringent emission rules.

In building up hydro, nuclear, solar and wind power capacities, China aims at increasing renewable energy consumption to 10 percent by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020, with an emphasis on supplying advanced energy technologies to rural China for accommodating 750 million villagers in a more environment-friendly fashion.

By 2008, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, China had the largest wind turbines fleet in Asia, with a total power-generating capacity of 12.21 million kilowatts, which ranked the fourth in the world.

The government's incentives policies brought about more than 600 solar cell companies, mostly privately-owned, which manufacture 44 percent of the world's total cells for solar power devices.

More than 90 percent of the solar cells manufactured in China were exported to other countries to advance their green efforts. However, the production of these cells causes heavy pollution, leading to a greater emission debt in China's industrial areas.

Beijing, which has 3.7 million registered motor vehicles, is adopting harsher regulations on vehicle exhaust emissions than the U.S. federal standards.

Beijing has adopted Europe's standard for vehicular emissions. The European IV requires gas-fueled motor vehicles to emit less than 1.0 gram of carbon monoxide and 0.08 gram of nitrogen oxide per kilometer. The U.S.'s Tier 2 standard requires vehicles to emit less than 2.125 grams of carbon monoxide and 0.25 gram per kilometer.

At the cost of lowering its economic growth pace, China sets the target of cutting energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 percent and cutting emissions of major pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010, a state guideline said.

NDRC statistics showed China cut its energy consumption by 10.1percent from 2006 to 2008, which means it saved 300 million tons of standard coal and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 750 million tons. Last year, sulfur dioxide emissions fell by 5.95 percent and those of chemical oxygen demand (COD), a main index of water pollution, dropped by 4.42 percent.

In June, the NDRC said that from 2006 to 2008, China closed down energy-hogging small-sized coal-fueled power plants that were technologically obsolete. They comprised an aggregated annual power generation capacity of 38.26 million kilowatts. Iron and steel mills with respective production capacities of 60.59 million and 43.47 million tons each year, and cement factories that produced 140 million tons yearly were also closed.

Xie Zhenhua, vice minister in charge of the NDRC, said, "The goal has been halfway met, and the task remains arduous."

Still, two-thirds of China's energy supply is fueled by coal.

One of China's leading power suppliers, Huaneng Group, began in early July to construct the country's greenest power plant in Tianjin using the latest technologies. The 2.1 billion-yuan (307 million U.S. dollars) power generation systems, which are expected to be put into operation in 2011, will emit only 15 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions that old-fashioned power plants with similar generation capacity usually discharge.

Huaneng also built the country's first carbon-capture facility in a Beijing thermal power plant. However, Huaneng is not able to store the annually captured 3,000-ton carbon dioxide, but instead purify it for resale to local soda manufacturers.

"Capturing a ton of carbon costs at least 300 yuan, which is a lot for us," said a management officer at the Beijing plant. Huaneng tops the list of China's green power projects.


When he was told that almost 40 percent of China's four trillion-yuan economic stimulus package had gone to green projects, Secretary Locke said Wednesday in Beijing to the American Chamber of Commerce and the U.S.-China Business Council, "China has already adopted the most aggressive energy-efficiency program in the entire world, and they are on track to exceed many of their renewable energy adoption goals."

China and the U.S. kicked off last week a joint research center on clean energy, with an initial funding of 15 million U.S. dollars for research and development mainly on energy-efficient buildings, clean coal use and clean-fueled vehicles.

State enterprises like the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and the Dongfeng Motor Corporation (DMC), as well as private companies such as Chery and BYD invested substantial funds into developing hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles. The research and development of these vehicles are subsidized by the government in order to ensure market competitiveness and are supported by he Ministry of Science and Technology and pushed by Minister Wan Gang, an engineering doctorate who was trained in Germany and has long been a hybrid-car expert.

The ministry channeled more funds into research on solar, biomass and wind energies. China is a solid sponsor for the International Thermo-nuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a pioneer multinational collaboration for finding new and clean energy.

At a meeting of leaders from five developing countries' leaders on July 8 in Italy, State Councilor Dai Bingguo urged developed countries to "make an explicit commitment to take the lead in emissions reductions and provide developing countries with measurable, reportable and verifiable support in technology, funding and capacity building."

He made the remarks on behalf of Hu Jintao who could not attend the meeting due to the incident in Xinjiang.

Stavins, who directs the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements, said, "The ongoing dialogue between China and the United States is particularly important."

The American environmental economist, however, suggested capital markets should place more emphasis on supporting competitive cutting-edge environmental technologies.

"Technological transfer will surely be a major part of any future international climate regime that is meaningful, but the most effective way for it to be included will be through market-based incentives for private-sector investment in the developing world," he said.

Freestone of the George Washington University said, "'No-lose' targets would be voluntary undertakings perhaps sector by sector, energy, etc., and their success would depend on financial flows and investments from the west."

Chinese technologists are eager to develop indigenous methods of reducing greenhouse gases emissions. A research team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry created a giant device that was able to collect and cool coal-bed gas from coal pits.

Before the device was tested in Yangquan and Jincheng, both big coal fields in north China's Shanxi Province, methane, the dominant ingredient in most coal-bed gas combination, was usually not recycled. This would often trigger coal pit explosions, or pollution as it was vented into the air.

The CAS experiment attracted 10 million yuan in private investments to commercialize methane, a byproduct of coal burning that is cleaner than traditional fuels.

Using the huge refrigerator-like device, lead engineer Zhang Wu said, his team froze the combined coal-bed gas under 200 degrees Celsius below zero, and separated methane, oxygen and nitrogen from each other thanks to their different evaporation points.

"The technology not only produces commercialized methane, but also helps reduce greenhouse effect resulting from randomly emitting methane to the air," Zhang said.


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