Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting China this week, and she seems to be making climate change a key issue on her trip. While in Beijing, she talked about how although the Chinese people are certainly entitled to improve their standard of living, the issue of greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed.
It’s no secret, of course, that China has been building coal-fired power plants at a blistering pace (two per week) to provide electricity to its rapidly growing middle class. The argument in defense of this has traditionally been: Yes, China is emitting lots of greenhouse gases, but it’s still less than the US when you consider emissions per capita. Plus, the US used coal to develop quickly, so why shouldn’t China?
Secretary Clinton responded by saying that, first of all, China’s per-capita emissions have now exceeded the US. Secondly, climate change doesn’t care about per-capita anything – it’s about the total amount of emissions, period. And lastly: True, the US developed using coal, but that was a mistake. Please don’t repeat our mistake.
The subtle finger-pointing was put aside, however, when Secretary Clinton took a tour of Beijing’s new Taiyanggong Thermal Power Plant. This CHCP (combined-heating-cooling-and-power plant) uses natural gas to drive the turbine, part of the waste heat for municipal heating and the rest of the waste heat for cooling (via absorption coolers). This power plant does not emit the particulates found in coal exhaust, emits less CO2, and is far more efficient. It’s a poster child for the next generation of Chinese power production.
But let’s be realistic for a second. It’s not going to be easy to replace the two weekly coal plants with two of these things. This plant was paid for in part by the UN Clean Development Mechanism, a fund that helps pay for clean energy projects in the “developing world”. This was great for publicity, but what we really need is either some favorable economics (maybe these plants would pay for themselves over time if there were a carbon tax/cap), or a serious government initiative to bring coal to a halt.
Image via Reuters
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