In the UN Summit held in September 2015, China’s Xi Jinping had said that the country’s carbon emissions would plummet by 2030 and renewable resources would meet all energy requirements. Since then, China has walked a greatly balanced path on the road to a greener, more sustainable future.
How has China approached such a mission? Perhaps we should start with the root cause of all the trouble and the reason why it is (was) known to be among the most polluting countries in the world. Not so long ago, coal was the primary energy resource of the Chinese, with a few hundred million tonnes of carbon being burned every year. In the past five years, however, coal production capacity has been cut down by 800 million tonnes. Coal consumption has fallen by about 8.1% in the last year alone.
Cutting down on the predominant energy resource of a country without a backup seems foolish, in hindsight. It turns out, there was a backup all along.
In a determinedly symbolic move, China built the world’s largest floating solar plant on a lake, which was previously the site of extensive coal mining. Anhui province in 2017 saw the installation of the 166,000-panel solar farm, which has a throughput of 150 megawatts of power, enough to power 15,000 homes. The project was developed by a local energy company, Sungrow Power Supply. Why the idea is truly smart, though, is the fact that no damage will be wrought upon wildlife and agriculture, as usually happens when solar farms are installed on land. Also, the water beneath the panels will constantly cool them, leading to increased efficiency.
There are many reasons which would trigger the Head of State of a country to allocate a huge chunk of the economy towards the green revolution. In this case, it was the huge number of deaths caused due to the polluted air and the thick layers of smog in many Chinese cities. The reason for most of these fatalities was found to be the burning of coal. In 2013, a staggering 366,000 deaths were found to be related to air pollution.
The Chinese government’s strategy to spend $360 billion on alternative technologies and consequently, generate some 13 billion jobs in the sector, is being realised through projects on solar, wind and hydropower.
The truly innovative step taken by the Chinese, though, is deserving of embellishment and praise. To improve the air quality and fight against climate change, China is deploying soldiers to plant saplings and grow a forest the size of Ireland! Some 66,000 soldiers have been taken off-duty to perform this noble task. It has served as the ultimate weapon in the ongoing war against air pollution in the country. The target is to achieve a green cover of 84,000 square kilometres and turn 23% of its landmass green, by 2020.
Be it the building of another floating solar plant, the reduction in size of the army to make it leaner and more strategic, the massive research into sustainable technologies or the cancellation of 104 coal plants in development, China seems poised to herald a cleaner tomorrow and like in most other aspects, remain at the top of its game.