Sustainability news often comes out of China at a trickle. This past month, it’s been a deluge
More and more I’m convinced the country is ramping up and solidifying its changing position as a global environmental leader. As I wrote in January, this is a result of increased attention on China vis-à-vis the new American administration. Following President Xi’s remarks at Davos, the stage is set for China to show off its talents in command and control. While it sounds Orwellian, being able to immediately enact policy will have a beneficial impact on the environment.
China Ratchets Up the War on Coal
Top of the agenda for the Chinese Government is tackling the ever-present problem of coal. The country’s reliance on the polluting substance is particularly palpable in the winter months. It’s now that coal-fired generators keep people warm, all while they slowly choke to death. Fortunately, and by design, the country’s use of coal is falling.
Government orders in January to cancel 104 coal-powered plant projects will keep bringing this number down. As Vox points out, this is equal to 120 GW of capacity – about one-third of the U.S. total coal capacity.
In the short term, cities are also doing their part to cut coal use. Beijing plans to cut coal consumption by 30% this year, helping its citizens breathe a little easier. This will bring the total consumption in the capital to around 7 million tons, a significant drop from the 23 million tons used in 2013.
Beijing city officials are also aiming to bring down harmful PM2.5 levels by 15% this year. While setting the cap at 60 micrograms per cubic meter is still double WHO standards, it’s a step in the right direction.
Doubling Down on Solar
China, already the world’s largest solar market, aims to improve on impressive growth. In 2015 alone, China added as much solar power as the entire capacity of Italy. With prices falling, the country aims to add 110 GW of additional solar power by 2020.
The Guardian’s Tom Phillips visits the Chinese province of Qinghai to see how big a bet China is placing on solar.
Building Next-Generation Infrastructure
Already cramped, China’s cities will have much less wiggle room over the coming decades. Rapid migration from countryside to city is straining already exhausted infrastructure. Networks of high-speed rail lines feel the biggest impact.
China already boasts 124,000 kilometers of railway track. A planned US$684 billion investment scheme will continue to connect the furthest hinterlands with megatropoli like Shanghai and Chongqing. By 2030, China will double its existing distance of high-speed lines with plans for Maglev-type trains reaching 600km/h. Meanwhile, high-speed rail in the U.S. continues to be a pipe dream.
These lines aren’t the only players in this melodrama. While China is investing billions of dollars in getting people to cities, they also want new urbanites to stay happy, healthy, and moving.
Business Insider takes a look at some of the giant infrastructure projects currently underway. These include the completed Shanghai Tower, a revived Silk Road, and a new city for over 1 million people in the sands of the Gobi Desert.