Notes from a Warming World
China Leads Green Energy Race
A recently report by Vivid Economics, a London consulting firm, surprised some people with the news that China is leading the race for clean energy. Cleantech analysts, who have long been shouting about China’s dominance in renewable energy, greeted the report with a smug nod. But the Aussie wonks at the Climate Institute, which commissioned the study, expressed surprise that the world’s top polluter is also the top force in the drive for clean energy. “The Chinese leadership have made a strategic decision that they missed out on the last two industrial revolutions and they don’t want to miss out on the third one,” said Erwin Jackson, director of the Climate Institute. “They are now commanding the largest market share of clean energy investment at a global level as a result,” he told AFP.
The report concluded that China is soundly beating the United States and Japan on clean energy, and absolutely crushing Australia. The elephant in the room? China’s dictatorial ways – which created all those rapidly growing, polluting industries – may be more effective at quickly reducing greenhouse gas emissions than democratic methods.
Not known for being the most gracious of losers (particularly when it comes to China), the United States, in the same week the Vivid Economics report was released, accused China of unfairly dominating the clean energy sector by handing out billions of dollars in “illegal subsidies” to stimulate the cleantech sector. The accusation was the result of a United Steelworkers’ complaint that China’s strategy to spur clean energy contravenes World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and costs American jobs. The union accused China of blocking access to materials used in green technologies (namely rare earth materials, which China does have something of a monopoly on), illegally linking subsidies to export sales, curbing imports, and demanding foreign investors hand over technology secrets.
The steelworkers’ complaint also accused China of providing more than $216 billion worth of subsidies to green technology makers – “more than twice as much as the US spent in the sector and nearly half of the total ‘green’ stimulus spent worldwide.”
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk responded by saying, “This administration is committed to ensuring a level playing field for American workers, businesses, and green technology entrepreneurs.”
Here’s a thought, Kirk: Rather than involve the WTO and whine about China, how about the US government match Chinese subsidies to level the playing field?
Meanwhile, in the Middle East
Probably not coincidentally, during the same month that saw both Osama bin Laden and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speak out about the need to address climate change, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced that the Middle East will be among the regions worst hit by climate change, and that the region is lagging behind on addressing the impacts of global warming. With hotter, drier, and less predictable climates, the amount of water running into the region’s streams and rivers is predicted to fall 20 to 30 percent by 2050, worsening desertification and food insecurity. Experts at the latest UNDP regional meeting also noted that Arab states, many rich in petroleum and grappling with fast-growing populations, lack the political will to address the potential impacts of climate change, which include not only desertification and lack of water, but also rising sea water, which threatens Egypt, Bahrain, and several islands in the Arabian Gulf. The solution? Involving the private sector, according to Mostafa Tolba, former executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “The entrepreneur and the economist need to see some revenue prospects from addressing climate change. Without them, nothing will happen,” Tolba told Reuters.
Flying the Polluted Skies
As Richard Branson continues to push ahead with every teenage boy’s dream – space tourism – new research suggests that should Virgin Galactic really take off, it could create major air pollution … a fact that would counteract Virgin’s various attempts to reduce the emissions created by its other operations. A decade of space tourism would put as much soot into the atmosphere as current global aviation does, according to a report co-authored by several US atmospheric scientists. Several private space-flight companies, such as Virgin Galactic, are contemplating using hybrid rocket engines that ignite synthetic hydrocarbon with nitrous oxide. These hybrid engines emit more black carbon – soot – than a normal kerosene and oxygen engine, according to the report. “Rain and weather wash out these particles from the atmosphere near Earth’s surface,” says Michael Mills, an atmospheric chemist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “But in the stratosphere there isn’t any rain and they can remain for three to 10 years.”