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China’s political system is an imperfect one at best, but when it comes to laying out targets for carbon emissions, it often does the job. “I think the advantage is obvious,” said Mark Clifford, author of “The Greening of Asia.” “It’s a very top down system, it’s run and led by engineers, they look for technical engineering-driven technocratic solutions. They believe in climate change because they’re scientists.”
And that’s why China’s government has invested billions into becoming a world leader in wind, solar, and hydropower. Nuclear energy is undergoing a renaissance in China, too: four out of ten nuclear power plants currently under construction in the world are in China. The country’s reliance on coal, too, is shrinking, but there is likely an economic reason for that. “I think the most important driver of that reduction is the industrial slowdown,” said Beijing-based Zhou Xizhou, director at IHS Solutions. “It’s not environmental policy.”
Zhou says central planning is crucial for China to meet its carbon reduction goals, but he rejects the idea that China’s government acts as an integrated unit when it comes to making environmental policies. On the contrary. Zhou says there’s a fierce debate underway in Beijing between government officials who want to prioritize China’s environment, and others who think doing so will further slow down China’s economy, leading to more unemployment. “So there’s still a very much balancing act to play,” said Zhou. “And the more you get into sort of domestic politics here, the more you realize that the different voices are probably just as hard to coordinate as you would have in Washington.”
Although, says Zhou, those debating voices in Beijing aren’t as public as those inside the beltway.
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