China's smog: clean energy is the obvious long term solution, says Changhua Wu

21 January 2013

Changhua Wu, Greater China Director, The Climate Group, responds to the recent news that China has hit new records in air pollution.

Last week China’s capital officially reached unprecedented levels of air pollution. On January 12, 2013, Beijing’s air quality index raced past levels considered hazardous.

We may have been able to see the thick smog for ourselves, but now the truth is unavoidable, as Beijing’s monitoring station readings all state that pollution levels have soared past the most dangerous limits.

The city government is making a serious effort to respond to the crisis: it issues an unprecedented set of new anti-pollution measures during the weekend, targeting everything from construction sites to idle car engines.

It is probably the most persistent, concerted attempt to tackle what has become probably the most visible side-effect of China’s new prosperity.

Economic growth, toxic air

While impressive economic growth rockets across the nation, Chinese people are left with a bad taste in their mouths: one of transport and industrial fumes, at a density signalled by the World Health Organization (WHO) as extremely unsafe. Once famed for its cyclists, Beijing is instead choked by traffic.

And it’s not just Beijing. The same toxic air is filling lungs and causing disease in major cities across Asia.

Most of the blame for the heavy pollution can be laid on industry, as it speeds up activities in a bid to support the region’s rapid expansion.

Accordingly, when alarms were first raised last week, factories were ordered to halt production to help slow the rising pollution levels. It may have helped, but this is just a temporary measure.

To me, the long term answer is obvious. China desperately needs to accelerate its clean revolution, in order to accommodate its growing economy sustainably, and healthily.

We need a Clean revolution

A clean revolution is the transformation to a world of clean and accessible energy. To cities busy with sustainable mobility. It is a low carbon world with a thriving economy, stable employment, energy security, and where the quality of life of communities is enhanced.

China, and other Asian cities, should place clean technology investment at the heart of all economic growth plans.

Adopting innovative new clean technologies and driving clean energy investment will benefit businesses, boost global competitiveness, cut down on energy costs and ease traditional energy use and its associated pollution.

The nation is already known as a world leader in the clean energy sector, boasting clean energy investment of a record US$68 billion in 2012, which was driven largely by solar. China now makes up a quarter of global clean energy investment, which now stands at US$269 billion.

And according to China’s State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC), electricity generated from clean energy sources climbed 3.9% to an increase of 28.5% year on year in 2012, reaching 1.07 trillion kilowatt hours.

Leadership opportunity

China has already begun to restructure its economy and transform the way it grows for good. But its business and government leaders must do more.

In light of the widespread Chinese media attention that this ‘air-pocalypse’ has caused, it is clear that the nation holds the issue as of highest importance.

It is with this in mind that we can only hope China’s new generation of leaders take the opportunity that is laid before them, to create a cleaner, better, more prosperous future. For all.

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