China, the world leader in both economic growth and carbon emissions, faces the dilemma of how to respond to the challenges of global warming while not harming its robust economy.
In late January 2008, in time for the the Lunar New Year, severe ice storms brought much of the nation to a standstill. More than 100 people were killed.
China’s worst storm in decades was, according to United Nations scientists, an illustration of what a changing climate may herald for the future. As such, it was a tipping point in the country’s environmental awareness.
Hu Kanping, editor of the Environmental Protection Journal, said, “For the ordinary people, it was a historical moment for them to know what is climate change.”
Even though China has invested heavily in alternative energy systems, its primary source of fuel is still overwhelmingly coal.
China’s per capita emissions are currently very low (about one-fifth that of the US) but are expected to rise significantly as an estimated 350 million people move from the countryside to the cities over the next 20 years.
China has in place two ambitious green targets as part of its current Five-Year Plan, which would curb (though not forestall) future growth in carbon emissions.
The first goal is for China to derive at least 15% of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020 (the government since has talked of a more informal target of 20%). The second is to reduce energy intensity per unit of GDP by 20% over a five-year period.