09.25.19

Time to Wake Up: China

The world power that positions itself to reap the economic benefits of a carbon-neutral technology, and that helps lead the world away from runaway climate calamities, will garner tremendous economic, strategic, and diplomatic advantages.

As prepared for delivery.

Mr. President, I rise today for the 254th time to ask this body to wake up to the challenge of climate change. 

In the time I’ve been doing these speeches, I’ve watched the shifting waves of climate denial. 

First climate change was a hoax; then there wasn’t enough science; then the science was uncertain; then solving climate would hurt the economy; then, innovation will magically save us. 

There’s a new entrant in the climate denial lexicon:  China.

China isn’t doing enough on carbon emissions, goes the rough argument, so we shouldn’t do anything at all. It’s a talking point you hear all the time from the fossil fuel industry and its array of front groups working to block action here in Congress. 

Now, China’s done plenty to complain about.  It has stolen our intellectual property, manipulated its currency, jailed political dissenters, set unfair labor rules, and more.  I have been front and center with those gripes about China.

But before we offer up China as the latest “Climate Denial Lite” excuse, shouldn’t we take a look at what China is really up to?

For starters, China is still a party to the Paris Climate Accord.  And its president doesn’t say stuff like wind turbines cause cancer. (For the record, PolitiFact rated that one “Pants on Fire.”) 

OK, low bar, I concede.

Our president recently tweeted, “Which country has the largest carbon emission reduction? AMERICA! . . . Who has dumped the most carbon into the air? CHINA!” 

Actually, not quite true.  We’ve still dumped more CO2 into the air than China, because we’ve been at it longer; and we still dump a lot more than China per capita; but China’s billion people do put out more carbon pollution than our 300 million.  They overtook us as the world’s top national emitter in 2007. 

Last year, China accounted for about 28 percent of global CO2 emissions, and the U.S. 15 percent; cumulatively China accounts for 13 percent of emissions, and the U.S. 25 percent. 

Americans’ per capita carbon emissions are among the highest in the world.  The average Chinese citizen accounts for less than half the per capita emissions of the average American.  So we actually don’t have lots to brag about on our emissions.

But that’s not where it looks the worst for us.  Forget the past. Look at the future, at climate action. That’s where China is blowing us out of the water.

As the Trump administration slavishly fronts for fossil fuel, even turning the agencies of government of the United States over to this corrupt industry, China is leaning in hard on green energy.

China is resetting their economy for a clean energy future. 

China began implementing a national cap-and-trade system – a price on carbon – for its power sector in 2018, which will go into full force across the country next year.  Several provinces already run cap-and-trade locally. 

This year, China’s launching a mandatory renewables quota, requiring that 35 percent of its electricity be renewable by 2030.  And its Energy Strategy seeks 50 percent of total electric power generation from non-fossil sources by 2030.

China is investing to dominate clean energy manufacturing and technology.

In 2017, nearly half of the world’s new renewable energy investment was in China—triple the investment of the United States.  China leads the world in renewable power deployment, with more than twice as much capacity as any other nation.  Almost 30 percent of the world’s renewable power capacity is in China, including the most solar, wind, and hydro.

China dominates global deployment of solar panels.  It has several times greater installed solar generation capacity than the United States.  We’ve virtually lost solar panel manufacturing to China.

Here’s China’s lead in total renewable electricity deployment, with more than double the installed capacity of the United States, and nearly a third of total global renewable electricity capacity.

If you count nuclear power as clean energy, there’s China.

China currently has the world’s largest nuclear power construction program.  It has 37 nuclear reactors in operation, 20 under construction, 40 in planning, and proposals for an additional 100.  Next-generation nuclear technologies originally designed in the U.S. are among those proposals.  If all of those reactors are built, China would end up with double the U.S. nuclear fleet. 

In the transportation sector, we feel pretty good.  We see Tesla, and Chevy’s Bolt, and emerging EV manufacturers like Rivian.

But China’s far out front in building electric vehicles, and in deploying the infrastructure needed to run EVs.  China now requires that 10 percent of vehicles sold be electric or plug-in hybrids; this quota will increase to 12 percent in 2020. 

By the end of 2017, 40 percent of all the electric cars in existence were in China.  Last year, China manufactured nearly half of all electric vehicles manufactured worldwide. 

In other areas, it’s China, China, China.

China dominates global markets for electric buses and electric two-wheelers.  Exxon fabulously predicted to their shareholders that there would be zero electric buses by 2040; China is already operating 400,000.

High-tech batteries will power transportation and balance the electric grid.  China is planning for three times as much battery manufacturing capacity as the rest of the world combined. 

Carbon capture will grow as an industry as soon as it has a business model, which carbon pricing, including China’s cap-and-trade plan, will provide.  And there is China, with 20 carbon capture projects under construction or in development, more than any other nation.

It’s not all good climate news out of China, by any stretch.  The Chinese continue to build more coal-fired power plants than any other country, not just at home, but all over the world.  However, the difficult truth is that China’s progress on climate change is real, and it’s way more than ours. 

China’s not just doing this to be nice.  They are doing this to outdo us, economically and diplomatically.  If we keep kicking our renewable industries in the teeth here in America, just to please Trump’s coal industry donors, while China invests in these new technologies, we are making a losing bet.

China’s one-party government has put economic growth above all else.  Chinese scientists see the same data that ours do.  Chinese economists see the same economic risks that ours do.  Chinese businesses see the same threats to their workers and supply chains that ours do.  Chinese cities see the same threat from sea level rise that ours do.  The Chinese government just chose a smarter path, because they are not under the thumb of the fossil fuel industry. 

The Chinese are acting out of self-interest.  They are acting on climate because they want their country and economy to succeed.  They want to own these industries of the future.  Rather than compete, we’re helping them win, all to make some grubby political donors happy. 

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate reports that strong climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits worldwide through 2030 compared with business-as-usual.  Over that period, such action could generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs globally – and avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution.  Whoever acts swiftly will get the biggest share of these riches.

Last year, Stanford economists found that keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – as opposed to the riskier 2 degrees safety limit – would likely save more than $20 trillion in economic damages around the world by the end of the century.

The world power that positions itself to reap the economic benefits of a carbon-neutral technology, and that helps lead the world away from runaway climate calamities, will garner tremendous economic, strategic, and diplomatic advantages.  In particular, China recognizes the diplomatic advantage to acting on climate, as the United States withdraws from our traditional position of leadership.

The last century has been called the American Century.  We are fast handing over the next century to become the Chinese Century.

That is as good a reason as any for us to wake up, Mr./Madam President.

I yield the floor.