Why China is both climate villain and hero
Astounding effort to embrace renewables could help to save its currency
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
When Callaway Climate Insights was launched more than two years ago, our first edition was featured maps showing pollution in China. And many times since then, we have repeated the fact that the world’s most populous country is responsible for the largest amount of carbon emissions on the planet.
All true and alarming. Mentioned less, though, is that China is doing more than anywhere else to clean up its act, a trend detailed in a recent report by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. For example, say the authors, headed by Prof. Michael Greenstone, the powers that be in Beijing have reduced air pollution nearly as much in seven years as the U.S. did in three decades, with the amounts of harmful particulates in the air there falling 40% from 2013 to 2020.
The extraordinary numbers continue: China last year had 282 GWs of installed wind power, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, far exceeding the U.S.’s 118 GWs. And the numbers for solar are even more striking: China has the capacity to generate 254 GWs from panels, dwarfing the U.S.’s 76 GWs.
“China’s success in reducing pollution is a strong indication of the opportunities that could lie ahead for other nations if they were to impose strong pollution policies, as some are beginning to do,” Greenstone and colleagues said in the report.
Turns out it could also be a protection for its currency, the yuan, which a report by British bank Barclays says is the money most exposed to the effects of climate change, saying rising temperatures and associated economic costs could pose “rising and costly risk, with tangible (foreign exchange) impact.”
There’s relatively good news, though, for the euro, which Barclays predicts will appreciate 0.5% against the dollar by 2030 and 3.9% on average over the next five decades, with the eurozone’s trade openness helping soften the economic impact of global warming.
In contrast, the yuan could lose 5.5% by 2030, with a further 7% depreciation over the next decade, which could worsen to more than 10% a decade over time.
Fortunate, then, that Beijing is revving up renewables.