I’ve been sitting on this blog entry for a few months. I wanted to see what would happen, thinking that perhaps America would not fall into a checkmate.
Today we found out that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.
The following news item reminds me a bit of the poison goblet scene in the movie Princess Bride. If you know the scene, it sometimes seems like the U.S. is the character played by Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) and China is played by Cary Elwes (the masked Westley).
Eric Reguly, European Bureau Chief for The Globe and Mail, made an interesting point in an article published November 12. A potential unintended consequence of a fossil-fuel oriented energy policy is handing over leadership and domination of the clean energy sector to China. In part he wrote:
The U.S. president-elect has written off the overwhelming evidence that man-made carbon emissions are warming the planet as a China-bred science hoax. He has said he’s in favour of “cancelling”the Paris deal and gutting President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. For good measure, he is said to have lined up climate-change skeptics to run the U.S. Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
China’s black-energy policy — coal and lots of it — is developing a green edge. The world’s most populous country and its top polluter would be delighted to take clean-energy leadership over from the Americans (and the Europeans). It’s already doing so. Mr. Trump’s trampling of the green agenda will only accelerate that process. Domination of the wold’s fastest growing industry — clean energy –is on China’s agenda.
Don’t for a minute think that China is throwing fortunes at clean energy only because its people would rather not die from lung cancer in their soot-laden cities.
For China, clean-energy development is also a key component of its energy-security drive. China imports a lot of its coal and almost all of its oil, whose prices can be volatile and whose imports can be interrupted by wars and revolutions.
Clean-energy investment also creates jobs. A decade ago, China leaped into the solar-panel market. By 201, its production of solar panels had reached 50 percent of global output. Today the figure is even higher. Ditto wind turbines. By 2015, five of the top 10 turbine makers were Chinese, as was the top name — Goldwind. The traditional wind-turbine powerhouses, Denmark’s Vestas and GE of the United States, are sliding in the rankings.
John Matthews, professor of management at Australia’s Macquarie University, has spent years chronicling the rise of China’s clean-energy machine and noted in the September issue of the Asia-Pacific Journal that China is decoupling energy consumption from economic growth. And each year, he adds, the proportion of electricity generated by thermal sources — fossil fuels — declines; it dropped to 73 percent in 2015. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that China’s $110-billion investment in clean energy last year accounted for one-third of the world’s total investment in the industry.
China is in a no-lose situation because:
(a) Even if climate-change is a hoax by China, then China still has a strategic need to ween itself off of imported coal and oil; clean energy, therefore, remains a sensible, no-regrets capability for China to pursue. There is also the collateral benefit of reducing air-borne pollutants that, at the very least, lowers quality of life for its citizens, and in the worst case kills people through cancers (this is also a potential negative side-effect for some U.S. citizens if and as coal-fired plants are brought online and crank up their output).
(b) If, on the other hand, climate-change is not a gigantic hoax and turns out as real, then again China wins because it still has the benefits of point (a) plus it has an even better chance to dominate a critical sector — clean energy production — that brings with it the kind of high-paying jobs it needs to grow and maintain its middle class and to continue the transition from a low wage, low value-added economy to one based on higher margin, higher wage, knowledge-based industries.
China has grasped another rung in its rise to becoming the dominant world power. Checkmate.