Climate Crisis: China’s Action Based on Its Strengths and Healthy Competition
Baby steps of a giant that led to cleaner skies and lighter breaths for its people.
The world leaders are gathering at COP28 in Dubai to find solutions to the climate crisis. China is one of the most relevant actors on the global stage when it comes to climate matters. Beijing is often at the center of criticism from the West regarding its environmental commitment, firstly because it’s one of the major polluters in the world – China accounts for a third of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions despite its impressive achievements in renewable energy – and on the other hand because Beijing’s economic strategies to achieve its climate commitments scare the West, accusing the Chinese side of “unfair competition”.
China’s biggest contribution on green energy: wind and solar
Among China’s best achievements, there is wind and solar energy: the country is using renewables to meet nearly all of the growth in its electricity needs. To do so, the country is installing about as many solar panels and wind turbines as the rest of the world combined. According to the report by Global Energy Monitor, China is set to double its capacity to 1,200 gigawatts of wind and solar power by 2025, reaching its 2030 goal about five to six years ahead of time. The installations are concentrated in provinces such as Shandong, Shanxi, Xinjiang and Hebei.
Based on a paper issued by Rystad Energy, China’s solar sector is set to break records in the coming years. When installed capacity crosses the 500 gigawatts mark by the end of 2023, it will have taken 13 years to reach that milestone. That total, however, will be doubled to 1 terawatt in just three additional years. Rystad Energy modeling shows total installed solar photovoltaic capacity in China will cross the 1,000 gigawatts mark by the end of 2026.
China’s wind capacity doubled its 2017 level, the equivalent to the next top seven countries combined. China’s combined onshore and offshore capacity now surpasses 310 gigawatts, with new projects in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Gansu and along coastal areas. China is on course to add another 371GW before 2025, increasing the global wind fleet by nearly half.
Climate efforts and economic concerns
When it comes to renewable energy China had a big push from the inside with consistent state support in order to achieve the targets outlined by President Xi Jinping in 2020. That puts China in a privileged position but also at the center of strong containment, caught between bans and limitations – especially from the United States and the European Union – which affect exports of technologies and components in the environmental protection industry.
The core of the issue seems to be: other countries limit China’s potential because they are in lacks of valid alternatives at home in terms of costs, highly integrated supply chains and economies of scale that only a country the size of China can offer. It should be more about avoiding running after a unique solution with one universal method but incentivizing China’s action based on its strengths.
Despite EU restrictrions – the last on Chinese solar panels import was set in 2013 and lasted until 2018 – Rystad Energy data shows Europe’s spending on solar imports has almost quadrupled in the last five years, surging from €5.5 billion in 2018 to more than €20 billion in 2022, while the supply source has become increasingly concentrated. An overwhelming €18.5 billion – 91 percent of all PV import expenditure – was spent on Chinese products, as volatile panel prices impacted buying decisions. A critical shortage of solar-grade polysilicon – a crucial raw material in manufacturing PV modules – in 2021 and 2022, coupled with rising demand for installed solar PV, contributed to soaring panel prices worldwide.
As China dominates both the production and processing of polysilicon into PV modules, Chinese manufacturers have been increasingly able to undercut the competition on price. Today, panels made in China often cost as little as two-thirds of European-manufactured capacity. It can represent a vantage for climate sake: Chinese solar, new energy vehicles and the whole industry manufacturers will become more efficient, and supply ever cheaper solutions to reduce carbon emissions nationally and globally.
One of the big challenges ahead for China will be maintaining its record on clean technology but to shut off the expansion of the coal industry, since the country is responsible for half of all coal consumption worldwide. In fact, China’s efforts for a transition towards technologies that promote clean energy clash with the development of the coal industry, still very performing. Coal was the toughest topic Chinese representatives brought on COP28 since is still approving new coal-fired power plants in a bid to ensure energy security. Moreover, following recent productive talks between China and the United States, both sides agreed to include methane in their 2035 climate goals and the idea of a Methane and Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases Summit at COP28.
China’s commitments are on the plate and the path is no different from the one that started with decreasing levels of pollution in Chinese cities in the last years. Baby steps of a giant that led to cleaner skies and lighter breaths for its people.
The author is China correspondent journalist for the Italian-language Swiss Radio-Television.
The article reflects the author’s opinions, and not necessarily the views of China Focus.