Contemporary ChinaPhoto: Elizabeth Thomsen

Today, in global talks, in the Senate, on the street, you still hear a murmur here and there about “not doing anything until India and China sign on.” And this previously pervasive attitude, however obsolete, may already be coming back to bite industrialized nations. Indeed, the big honchos in the West may find themselves borrowing and begging for new technologies that China has been busy perfecting all along.

Or maybe we’ll just be sulking about the fact that China’s economy is happily unhitched from the fossil fuel rollercoaster long before ours…

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Could it be that China is winning the clean energy race? Here are some tidbits gathered by MicCheck Radio and Sightline that make the case:

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  • Yes, it’s true. “China recently passed the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions and together the two countries account for 42 percent of the world’s emissions.” [Reuters]
  • Also: Coal accounts for almost 80 percent of electricity generation in China, compared to about 49 percent in the United States. [Reuters]
  • However, China may be pulling ahead in the global clean-energy race, thanks to “lagging US policies, which will leave the United States at a disadvantage in the next big industry.” [Wall Street Journal]
  • AND…China invested $12 billion in renewable energy in 2007, placing second in the world in absolute dollars spent, just behind Germany. Indian government revealed that it would provide $100 billion in subsidies over 20 years to utilities for buying solar-generated power. President Obama made a campaign pledge to spend $15 billion promoting clean energy, “a promise that has been gutted by the horse-trading in the Congressional fight over the [energy and] climate bill.” [Wall Street Journal] Canada’s Economic Action Plan establishes a $1 billion Clean Energy Fund — there may be other Canadian clean-energy investments that I’m not aware of.
  • China is expected to unveil an extensive and unprecedented stimulus package (reported to be in the range of $440 billion to $660 billion) dedicated entirely to new energy development over the next decade. As part of the Recovery Act, the Obama administration is investing $80 billion to support clean-energy solutions.
  • Overall, China’s goal is to generate 10 percent of its electricity with renewable sources of energy by 2010, and 15 percent by 2020. [China Daily, Celsias]
  • China’s total wind energy capacity doubled in each of the past four years. This year it will surpass the U.S. as the largest installer of new wind capacity. (Only one of the top five wind-turbine companies in the US is actually American–it’s GE).
  • Finally…China is expected to build the equivalent of the entire U.S. building stock in the next 15 years, making it a tremendous “laboratory” for energy efficient building designs and technology. [Reuters]

Some promising news: China and the United States recently announced a joint project to develop a clean energy research center. With initial financing of $15 million and headquarters in both countries, the center will focus on coal, clean buildings, and efficient vehicles, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced yesterday. Still, the race is on!

As Washington’s former governor, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, put it, “The Chinese are taking unprecedented action. They are a model for developing countries around the world.” But maybe they’re also a model for the developed countries.

Venture capitalist John Doerr, testifying before the US Senate, put it this way, referring to America’s place in the clean-energy race: “We barely got a dog in the fight; we’re barely in the game right now.”


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 This post originally appeared at Sightline’s Daily Score blog.