Friday, 17 July 2015

What about China?!

"What about China?" is an excuse often blurted back at the suggestion we should clean up our act and phase out fossil fuels. The sentiment being, of course, that why should the West make an effort to reduce CO2 emissions when there's China: a country commonly thought of to be a) extravagantly irresponsible with the environment and b) so polluted you can poke the air with a chop-stick.

It may come as a surprise then to hear that the infamously oppressive state is spearheading something of a green revolution. After touching down in Beijing on a work trip last month, inhaling for the first time and tasting the smog-filled air, it certainly came as a surprise to me. Air pollution in China is so bad that as many as half a million deaths per year are attributed to it.

It is said in England - or, at least, was occasionally said by my nan - that fine weather is approaching if there's enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers. Well, I'd suggest if Chinese sailors seek smooth sailing they consider wearing trousers in a shade something more like dusty ochre. Of that, there is plenty. With the Chinese burning as much coal as the rest of the world combined it's hard to imagine a country more in need of a 'green revolution'.

Sunshine fighting through the smog, Tiananmen Square, Beijing © Ryan Chapman

The silver lining to that smoggy cloud is that China recently announced to the world that they're working hard to peak their CO2 emissions by 2030. Now, I don't know about you, but the Chinese government doesn't strike me as the kind that would fail to hit a target after announcing it to the world. In fact, many are predicting they'll peak much sooner than 2030 on account of the fact they're already well on their way.

At the same time that the Conservatives in Britain are diverting more and more priorities and funding away from renewable energies the Chinese are ploughing huge sums of money into solar, wind and hydropower - far more so than any other country in the world - and creating many jobs in the process. If you’re wondering why we can't do the same in the West let it be known that it’s not because we can’t.

According to a report published in Energy and Environmental Sciences by 'The Solutions Project', even the USA could be run entirely on renewable energy in as little as 35 years, with a rapid but entirely realistic phasing-out of fossil fuels. Another report, called 'Pathways to Power', concludes that Scotland could reach the same goal in just 15 years, so it's safe to conclude a UK-wide transition is not beyond the realm of possibility. The only trouble is, as you'd expect from a party backed by oil tycoons, those pesky Conservatives simply don't want it.

'The Solutions Project' infographic. More info at:

It seems to me that the political right are cornered by their own ideology. To acknowledge the threat of climate change is to admit that their economic philosophy is broken. It’s to concede that rampant, un-regulated capitalism cannot continue and that we must embrace collective responsibility and find more sustainable ways of living. And to accept all of this is to go against their dog-eat-dog, winner-takes-all view of the world, and so denial and inaction become all too convenient.

This, in turn, explains why we're sat here in 2015 with not an awful lot being done, despite the overwhelming evidence that says drastic action is needed. So, what about China? No global ambitions to combat climate change could ever be realised without them and they do, after all, owe the planet a huge favour.