Clean Coal and China

As part of a scholarship I am applying for, I recently wrote a letter to Congressman David Obey, Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations urging him to put limitations on the World Bank’s proposed Clean Technology Fund (CTF) that would eliminate funding for clean coal. The purpose of the fund is to help developing countries cut pollution, save energy and fight global warming. I argued that using this funding for clean coal would be a waste since the United States has already spent billions investing in our own country and we have yet to produce a single clean coal plant. Wind and solar create three to four times as many jobs as coal power and are far better for the environment than coal, which are the largest polluter of toxic mercury, the largest contributer of hazardous air toxics and releases over 40% of U.S. total carbon dioxide emissions (while supplying 48.4% of our electricity, 23% total energy). Strip mining provides over 60% of the coal in the U.S. and has killed more  than 104,000 miners in the mines since 1900 and twice as many from black lung disease. 

Essentially coal is bad and clean coal in unproven so we shouldn’t devote the scant resources we have (estimates say we’d need  an additional $30b) towards promoting clean energy in developing countries. BUT what happens to this logic when you account for China?

China is now building  two new coal plants per week and yet the average Chinese is still only consuming one-quarter of the average American. Imagine if they catch up to us…

And yet, positive things are happening. Last October China’s top climate change envoy warned that the global pact to tackle global warming was bound to fail, saying that rich countries are failing to deliver on promises, especially promises to transfer patented clean technology. But last week the U.S. and China held a clean energy forum where they discussed  co-funding a joint research and development center with shared intellectual property, creating tax-free “special energy zones” within cities to demonstrate new projects, and training a corps of energy-conservation auditors. While nothing concrete was decided, the forum had support from the likes of Hilary Clinton and Senator Maria Cantwell.

It is clear that China is trying. They know that their arid lands are vulnerable to climate change which could reduce China’s agricultural output by 5 to 10 percent by 2030, a disaster in a country that has 20 percent of the world’s population and 7 percent of its arable land. 

China is investing strongly in hydro, although this is very controversial  (think Three Gorges Dam) and  experts Say China’s Wind Energy Could Grow 1667% by 2020.As was noted in a New York Times article today, the hard work will come if the United States presses China to accept mandatory caps on its emissions. 

This investment and the push towards collaboration is very exciting. However, if we really want to see China and other developing countries move away from cheap fossil-fuels, the West is going to have to make more of an investment. While industrialized nations have pledged nearly $18b, developing countries have received less than 10% of that. This includes money pledged to the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund, none of which has been deposited and now the money is expected to be available in the form of loans, not grants. 

Given the economic crisis, this is understandable. But given the climate crisis, it is unacceptable.