Is China Leading the Cleantech Revolution?
The short answer is: yes.
May 7, 2019, Bruno Jacobsen
Smog and other pollutants are still a common sight in many of China's cities. Indeed, China has had a bad reputation with regards to the environment for many years. But understanding that looking out for the environment has benefits both internationally and domestically, the country has been changing. In fact, some may even argue that China is, at the moment, leading the cleantech revolution - ahead of the United States and other Western countries.
Is China Leading the Cleantech Revolution?
Cleantech is basically any process or product that is able to reduce (or reverse) negative environmental impact by improving energy efficiency, using sustainable resources, or protecting the environment. For most of the time, much of this technology has been expensive. So expensive, in fact, that even governments were on the edge about subsidizing it. We're talking about electric vehicles, solar panels, and so on. But over the past decade or so, prices have started to come down significantly. Indeed, in 2004 investors poured $61.7 billion globally. In 2017, investments in cleantech topped $333.5 billion, most of the growth driven by solar and wind.
What's interesting is where most of this growth has come from. Not from the US or Europe, but from China. In fact, according to the same source, new investment in cleantech in the US decreased from $62.3 billion to $56.9 billion between 2011 and 2017. In Europe, during the same period, they decreased from $137.8 billion to $57.4 billion. In China, however, during that same period, the numbers look quite different. From $51.5 billion in 2011, investments rose to $132.6 billion in 2017.
It's quite clear, therefore, that China appears to be more serious about cleantech investments than its counterparts. Here are a few examples.
When it comes to electric vehicle production and sales, no one is quite up there with China. In fact, China not only produces more electric vehicles than everyone else. It also has more EV sales than anyone else. Combined. In 2017, EV production in China reached 595,000 vehicles, and EV sales, 579,000. In the US, the numbers were 200,000 and 195,000.
But that's just a small part. In terms of clean energy manufacturing value added, it's also leading. Though the numbers are from 2014, it is nonetheless astounding. With close to $40 billion, it surpasses every other country. Again, combined. Following China, comes Japan, with almost $7 billion. Germany and the US follow, both with a little over $5 billion.
When it comes to the cumulative share of renewable energy patents, China is, again, leading. With 29% of the pie, it leads the US (18%), the EU (14%), Japan (14%), South Korea (9%), and the rest of the world (15%). According to the report,
"China’s concerted efforts to research, develop and invest in renewable energy and clean transport offer its industry the opportunity to overtake US and European companies, which have been dominant in sectors such as cars and energy machinery. This will give China a comparative advantage in trade and lend impetus to the country’s economic growth."
Indeed, according to the report, China is the best-positioned country to become the world's renewable energy superpower.
Nevertheless, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. While China is certainly leading the world when it comes to renewable energy - at least in terms of sheer numbers - it is also a leader in another way. China's the world's biggest carbon polluter. It's Belt and Road Initiative has also been responsible for the export of plenty of "dirty energy."
So while China is one of the greenest, and quantity wise the greenest country on Earth, it is also one of its biggest polluters. Despite that, their efforts to curb their environmental damage and invest in cleantech is still commendable. It is hard to say what this means for the future. One thing is certain, however. Should China continue on this path, developing its energy around cleantech and getting a hold on much of its technology, the country is likely to be leading in more ways than one in a few decades.
THE FUTURE IMPACT OF CHINA'S CLEANTECH REVOLUTION
This article draws inspiration from the phenomenon "Cleantech Revolution of China" made by the foresight team at Futures Platform. After presenting the facts about China's cleantech movement, the team notes that China's position as the world leader in renewable energy and related goods and services provides it with political power. As the U.S steps back from tackling climate change, there are hopes that China will fill the leadership vacuum.
As a result of the increasing production of solar panels, batteries and other similar products, China will be more dependent on new kind of resources. One on hand, China will certainly protect its economic interests everywhere in the world and especially on the areas where minerals and other raw materials it needs are being produced. On the other hand, its dependency on countries producing fossil fuels will decrease.
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