We recently wrote about how the concentration of CO2 in the environment has reached a point higher than it has been in millions of years. A lot of the newer CO2 no doubt came from the Middle Kingdom. China, which is currently responsible for a quarter of all carbon emissions worldwide, has been under intense pressure in recent years to curb its output of global warming gases. It has consistently resisted doing so, citing the imperatives of economic development and the central, seemingly irreplaceable, role that coal plays in driving the country’s growth. Indeed, China consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined. China’s refusal to rein in its emissions has served as a useful excuse for other nations to drag their heels. Why tighten your own belt when the big guy over there is loosening his?
But rampant pollution and the looming threats posed by global climate change are affecting a notable turn-around in China. Pollution in its capital city has become the stuff of international legend. Gas masks are becoming must-have accessories for business travelers in Beijing. China is now a major, market-disrupting producer of solar panels and wind turbines much to the dismay of German and U.S. manufacturers. And now, in a dramatic about-face, the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gas pollution has agreed to follow some 200 other countries and agreed to impose a cap on its CO2 emissions and cut the amount of CO2 per dollar of economic output – something the U.S. has so far been unwilling to do.
Britain’s Climate and Energy Change Secretary Ed Davey believes China’s changing attitude towards climate change demonstrated by its willingness to impose a ceiling as soon as 2016 may provide a significant push toward reaching an ambitious global accord on emissions reduction. “At the end of last year the Chinese leadership changed and started talking about creating an ‘ecological civilization’. This doesn’t mean they have signed up to every bit of the climate change talks, but it means they recognize that their economic model has to take account of pollution and the environment and that damage that it’s doing to people’s health.” Perhaps China and the U.S. will finally stop passing the climate buck back and forth and jointly pave the way for a global deal.
China’s vow to dramatically reduce emissions doesn’t appear to be merely theoretical. In another first, the country has unveiled its first carbon–trading program which will cover 638 companies in the southern city of Shenzhen.
And the country isn’t just getting aggressive about reducing coal and industrial emissions. It’s pressing ahead with far more unconventional methods of reducing its carbon footprint. And what is its latest eccentric proposal? How about building an entire self-contained city in one of the tallest buildings in the world in just seven months? The Broad Sustainable Construction Company has announced it will build a pre-fab 220-story, 2,750 high building containing some 4,450 apartments and 100,000 square feet of indoor vertical farms on a greenfield site in just over half a year. The goal, aside from dramatically increasing the speed with which skyscrapers can be built, is to simultaneously increase the energy efficiency and lower the carbon footprint of what will amount to a brand new city of 30 thousand people. A resident of BSC’s mega tower is expected to use only 1/100th of the land used by a typical Chinese citizen.
China, a big country with big environmental problems, is starting to make big plans for big CO2 reduction.