Power shortage threatens China’s commitment to save the Earth

Street lights were turned off in Shenyang city on September 23.  Photo: SCMP.

Traffic jams due to power outage traffic lights in Shenyang city on September 23. Photo: SCMP.

Last month, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) criticized the “energy consumption levels” of nine provinces, including Guangdong, Jiangsu, Yunnan, Fujian, Shaanxi, Guangxi, and others. Ningxia, Qinghai and Xinjiang, as these provinces failed to reduce their energy use.

Experts say the electricity crisis, if prolonged, is likely to affect China’s commitment to environmental protection when the country is still heavily dependent on thermal power.

China’s central government is promoting a “build first, destroy later” policy with the implication of developing renewable energy before stopping using fossil fuel sources. Coal, which is much cheaper than renewables, is still the main source of fuel, generating 70% of China’s electricity.

“Cutting emissions comes with a price, which is GDP. The question is what price the Chinese government can accept,” said Yu Lihong, a professor at the University of Science and Technology of China. East in Shanghai, commented. “To get rid of coal in 20 or 30 years is very difficult. I think even 50 years is still difficult. The role of coal is too big.”

In other areas, China remains active in environmental actions. It is the world’s largest electric vehicle market and plans to increase its solar capacity to 65 GW this year, according to the China Solar Power Production Association. In July, China established the world’s largest carbon trading system, which, in the words of Ma Jun, director of the China Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, “has significant symbolic significance”.

The carbon price in this program is less than 8 USD/ton. Most environmental economists think the price of carbon should be as high as $100/ton. “Ultimately, I think it will have its own impact,” Ma said.

In order to continue pursuing a policy of reducing carbon, the authorities also faced skepticism from the public. Although China is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, its people have not experienced the awakening events of many other countries.

Criticisms from bloggers to some pundits have even gone so far as to suggest that Beijing is being blinded by the West, when in reality they are just trying to contain China.

The public’s limited awareness of climate change means the government is always trying to find a balance in its environmental policies, said Dimitri de Boer, chief representative of the Beijing-based nonprofit ClientEarth. .

The recent widespread blackout could completely undermine public confidence in the authorities’ goal of “saving the Earth”, observers say.

“It would be very dangerous if the Chinese public assumed that the government was doing this because it was coerced by foreign actors,” Boer said. “For a lot of Chinese people, climate change is still something far away. The government says action needs to be taken, but people don’t understand why or how.”

Vu Hoang (Follow SCMP, Washington Post)

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