Greater China – good (environmental) news for a change

February 3, 2015 / By  

When thinking about climate change, air pollution and other environmental problems, it’s easy to get negative and focus only on our smoggy skies, or the perception that everything is only getting worse. In my view, cynicism never achieves much, and in fact, there are plenty of good news stories to report – it’s just that ‘Doom and Gloom’ tends to sell more newspapers, or serves as better clickbait.

So in the spirit of optimism, let’s look at some good environmental news for a change.

Let’s start with renewable energy. How many of you think solar panels or wind turbines sound like a great idea, but are too expensive to warrant much attention? Well, that may have been true in the past, but recently the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a landmark report[1], which concludes that in many parts of the world, biomass, hydropower, geothermal and onshore wind are all competitive with or cheaper than coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, even without financial support and despite falling oil prices. Similarly solar power is increasingly competitive, with utility-scale pricing dropping by half in 4 years.

In a separate report[2], IRENA found that renewables currently account for only 13% of China’s energy supply, and under the current policies and investment patterns, this will only grow to 16% by 2030. But hang on, that sounds like bad news? I thought this was supposed to be good news?

Well, the same report also found that it is both economically and technically feasible to grow renewables to 26% by 2030 across the Chinese economy, and for the building sector to be sourcing over two thirds of their power needs from renewables over the same period.

Speaking of buildings, did you know that Greater China is the second largest market globally (after the US) for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)?   Currently there are almost 2000 certified or registered projects, covering 110 million gross square metres / 1.18 billion gross square feet. Even more exciting, this happened in only the past 10 years. Based on early reports for 2014 and 2015, this trend doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

Source : The U.S. Green Building Council

Last, but certainly not least, China and the U.S. – the world’s number one and two greenhouse gas emitters, and historically some of the biggest hold-outs in international climate change negotiations, made a joint announcement [3]in late 2014, which commits both parties to significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. For China, this includes an agreement to ‘peak’ emissions by 2030 or sooner – the first time China has made such a pledge.

So against the backdrop of grey skies, we’re seeing renewables becoming much more cost effective, green buildings really take-off, and policy makers agreeing to significant improvements. Sounds like cause for optimism to me.

[1] Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014

[2] Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014

[3] LEED In-Motion: Greater China: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, USGBC. Page 4.

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