Book Review by Russell Whitehouse
Barbara Finamore has been involved in environmental policy in China for decades. Her new book, Will China Save the Planet?, is a succinct report (120 pg.) on the short, yet promising history of China’s actions to address climate change and pollution.
Chapter 1 is about the recent global leadership role that China has taken in the fight against climate change. At first, the PRC was hesitant to commit to specific pollution-reduction benchmarks. After experiencing increasingly devastating bouts of industrial smog in the 1990s however, China began to take its environmental commitments more seriously. It has set out to become the de facto leader in combatting climate change through ambitious domestic action and sponsoring international conferences. The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has only furthered China’s dominance.
Chapters 2-4 give in-depth analysis on China’s efforts to wean itself off of coal, develop its renewable energy capacity and become a global leader in electric vehicle production. China has long used coal to fuel its unprecedented rate of industrialization. In recent years, it has pledged to wean itself off of coal dependency by enforcing coal plant efficiency standards, enacting a cap-and-trade program, managing grid output, promoting local politicians based on their success in implementing green policies and supporting green energy developments. China is now home to many of the world’s top manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and commercial & private electric vehicles.
There is much to applaud China for in its efforts. Finamore writes that, “After growing by an average of 10% annually from 2002-2012, China’s coal consumption leveled off in 2013 & decreased in each of the following three years… Largely because of the dip in China’s coal consumption, global CO2 emissions growth was basically flat between 2014-2016.” By moving away from coal, China has been able to, “Every hour… erects a new wind turbine & installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.” As of last year, “Chinese solar manufacturers accounted for about 68% of global solar cell production & more than 70% of the world’s production of solar panels.”
Chapter 5 focuses on China’s mission to export its green initiatives around the world, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is shaping up to be the largest international infrastructure plan in history, investing trillions of dollars in 65 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. China thus has a golden chance to help much of the developing world to adopt clean energy goals and foster economic growth. The Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to invest in renewable energy initiatives in the BRI countries by implementing a “green finance” system. Through its pivotal role in the G20, China can also help to lead the developed world by spearheading reports and policies among the 20 member nations.
Barbara Finamore has written a highly readable and informative overview of China’s role in the global climate change battle. She lists the Chinese government policies that have led the world’s largest nation to meet and exceed many of the green benchmarks that it set for itself. It would have been helpful if Finamore had written more about China’s water instability and how that ties to the Tibetan occupation, as access to drinking water is one of the top environmental issues in the world today. As a whole, Will China Save the Planet? is a good primer for environmental policy analysts and anyone else interested in studying feasible solutions to climate change, humanity’s greatest threat.