Experts show mixed confidence in multilateral cooperation to tackle common global issues
China can go bolder to tap into renewable energy
Published: May 26, 2021 11:18 PM
May 22 marks the International Day for Biological Diversity in 2021, against the backdrop of a complicated geopolitical landscape amid a global economic recovery, experts suggest that China could leverage more innovative, cost-effective factors while developing renewable energy. 

Aerial view of Igneada's Floodplain Forests National Park in Demirkoy District of Kirklareli Province in northern west Turkey on April 28, 2020 Photo: VCG

Aerial view of Igneada's Floodplain Forests National Park in Demirkoy District of Kirklareli Province in northern west Turkey on April 28, 2020 Photos: VCG

Besides onshore efforts, offshore could be a game-changer. Different perspectives will determine various countries' choices when it comes to approaches to resolve burning or extremely urgent global issues, including climate change and biodiversity protection.

With the slogan "We're part of the solution," this year's International Day for Biological Diversity reminds people that human being's actions need to ensure that biodiversity is protected in order to ensure sustainable development. Sustainable lifestyle choices must be made available to everyone, everywhere. Solutions exist to protect the Earth's genetic diversity on land and sea. 

Meanwhile, countries are to adopt a robust, ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework in October, relevant for both the post-pandemic period of reconstruction and in building the resilience needed in the face of growing environmental, health and developmental challenges.

International Energy Agency (IEA) released a Renewable Energy Market Update-Outlook for 2021-22 on May 11, mentioning China alone was responsible for more than 80 percent of the increase in annual installations from 2019-20, "as onshore wind and solar power projects contracted under China's former feed-in tariffs scheme, and those awarded in previous central or provincial competitive auctions, had to be connected to the grid by the end of 2020."

Think outside the box 

Michael McElroy, a council member of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), told the Global Times on Friday that the data highlighted in the IEA report reflects that China has already taken actions in the direction of carbon emissions peak and carbon neutrality. 

Meanwhile, McElroy pointed out that China can be even more innovative in its energy strategy while developing renewable resources. 

McElroy, also a professor of environmental studies at Harvard University, said that in addition to incentives in its toolbox, China can consider wind, solar, and hydrogen energy as cheaper sources of energy to replace fossil fuels. 

Most of the hydrogen in China is made from energy. 

"Of course, [the] wind is not always blowing and the sun is not always shining. China needs to take the variability into account," he said. 

"In China, I've been impressed with some of the work that's been going on in the industrial sector to produce hydrogen. That's a major development," McElroy said. 

It's also fair to say that Chinese investment at the inception of these projects to try to bring the price down had a big effect on the global prices of solar energy, and that's likely to continue, he noted. 

When it comes to standards for different countries to track achievement in leveraging green and clean energy, and carbon dioxide emission reduction, McElroy finds that countries are not abiding by agreed standards yet. 

Aerial view of biodiversity in the bottom of the sea Photo: VCG

Aerial view of biodiversity in the bottom of the sea

Different perspectives 

China may face some resistance in solar power development in some other countries, according to McElroy. They might feel that China has perhaps been violating the conditions of the World Trade Organization, dumping PV panels on other countries. 

Talking about India's recent move in starting an anti-dumping probe into solar cell imports from China, Thailand and Vietnam since mid-May, he thinks that different perspectives will lead to different approaches. 

"If the objective is to encourage more regions to tap into solar energy on a worldwide basis, why would I object to China's offering cheap panels to India? Then you have to start thinking about the national policy. For example, the Indian government may decide that they are dangerously dependent on the import from China. They have to encourage [the] domestic industry to be more competitive, so that's [a] reasonable expectation as well," McElroy analyzed. 

An assistant research fellow, who works in a think tank affiliated with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Global Times on Monday that from a global governance perspective, different countries may have their own agenda and positioning due to the international market environment, and environmental protection, as no work is done in a vacuum.

"Each country needs to balance the national interest and development when it comes to phasing out of fossil fuel[s]. Thus it's not surprising to see trade protectionism," he said. 

After all, in some regions, economic recovery is just taking off and could still be very vulnerable. 

Bearing all these uncertain and unstable factors in mind, different countries tend to choose to continue with fossil fuels rather than renewable energy, which takes longer to trade off its effects, he added. 

US-China collaboration

Analyzing the outlook for major countries' collaboration when it comes to common global issues of climate change and biodiversity, McElroy said that he is confident that the US and China will jointly create a green energy future while maintaining quality of life in each country respectively.

Take the climate cooperation committed to in April by the US and China for instance. McElroy is optimistic that officials, including Xie Zhenhua, China's special envoy for climate change, and US climate envoy, John Kerry, will closely collaborate to resolve common issues.  

"I have been really impressed with the quality of the conversation that's taking place in the China council and the response of [the] Chinese government on the input from the council," McElroy said while summing up his work in the CCICED. 

Established in 1992, the CCICED serves as a high-level advisory body with a mandate to conduct research and to provide policy recommendations to the Government of China on China's environment and development. 

The Chinese expert, however, is more conservative when he evaluated the international cooperation outlook due to uncertainty factors. 

The IEA data might be inspiring, however, "we need to remember that in two years' statistics, China might be driving renewable energy and improving the capability and supply chain, creating new growth engines in the renewable sector, while in the long run, it takes more effort to enhance the access, affordability, and sustainability in renewable energy," he said. 

"China and the US must work together if the world makes the objective transition to a safe and sustainable future. I'm optimistic that [the] Chinese government is committed to dealing with climate issues. I'm convinced that the leadership in the US is also similarly committed," said McElroy. 

He believes that despite complicated geopolitical issues, under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiatives countries will develop enough mutual confidence while dealing with common issues such as biodiversity.