Visiting China, Seeing Green

Our guest blogger is Julian Wong, Senior Policy Analyst with the Energy Opportunity team.

My colleagues and I from the Center for American Progress are off next week on a fact-finding mission to China. Much has been written over the past year about how other countries, particularly China, are investing heavily to increase their economic competitiveness by building domestic clean energy industries. We will therefore be traveling to China to meet with policymakers and companies that are driving its aggressive pursuit of clean energy technology development — and share our findings with you on the CAP energy policy page.

At least three studies were released this past month alone about China’s clean energy investment. A report from Pew Charitable Trusts, using data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, declared China the early winner in the clean energy race by outspending the United States $34.6 billion to $18.6 billion in 2009. And while it’s true that decarbonizing our economies requires significant financial investments, it will not happen simply by throwing money to the wind. Deutsche Bank’s global survey of national clean energy policies highlights China, Brazil, and Germany for their exemplary scale and effect. And our own report “Out of the Running?” discusses how Germany, Spain, and China are adopting comprehensive policy approaches to clean energy by developing markets, building infrastructure, and financing research and deployment projects.

China recently identified alternative energy as a “key industry” that it would actively support in its next five-year economic development plan. This move is wholly consistent with China’s push for the new and more sustainable kind of development pathway that they call “scientific development.” As we discussed in “Out of the Running?,” China has created powerful top-down policies such as national clean energy and energy conservation targets, and more recently a goal to limit growth of carbon emissions. These top-down policies are supplemented by local incentives and investments to stimulate the innovation, manufacture, deployment, and export of low-carbon technologies.


These concerted efforts have yielded concrete results in renewable energy deployment, enhanced energy efficiency, and pushed the creation of new rail and grid infrastructure. China already boasts the world’s fastest high-speed train in operation, has developed the world’s leading technology for ultrahigh-voltage grid transmission wires, and is on track to become the largest producer and user of solar panels.

These developments will reduce the Chinese economy’s carbon intensity while significantly boosting job creation. China employed 1.12 million people in clean energy sectors by 2008, according to the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association. This number is small compared to a labor pool of 700 to 800 million, but it is forecasted to grow significantly over the next decade. A study by the Global Climate Network in conjunction with the Research Center for Sustainable Development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences projects that the combination of policies and investments in clean energy industries can create up to 6.79 million new jobs in the country by 2020.

The speed and extent to which China has raced ahead to invest in green technologies is worthy of envy. Yet the many recent media stories come up short in explaining just how the Chinese government is coordinating this massive push.

The CAP trip, which will include Sarah Wartell, Kate Gordon, Michael Ettlinger, Sarah Miller, and myself, is a fact-finding mission to three northeastern cities in China to see how national policy is intersecting with researchers, businesses, and leaders at the local level. We will start in Beijing, the nation’s capital and the heart of national energy policy decision making, and make day trips to Tianjin, a relatively new and rapidly growing national economic development zone, and Baoding, a city in neighboring Hebei province that has gained attention for its strategic emphasis on clean energy industries.

Read more about the trip at Center for American Progress, or follow on Twitter by subscribing to the hashtag #cappek.