Op-Ed Contributors

Sustainability through renewable energy

Updated: 2011-05-10 07:54

By Bernhard Raninger (China Daily)

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China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) shows that it wants to become the world's future green superpower. The implementation of ambitious ecological policy targets will contribute to the overarching goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level.

The targets include increasing the amount of non-fossil energy by 15 percent, saving energy in buildings, increasing energy efficiency in transportation and industry, preventing environmental pollution from urban, agricultural and industrial sources, and extending the principle of circular economy in energy and material management.

With its still very low average ecological footprint of about 2 acres for one person's sustenance, China is in a good starting position compared to the United States, which has an average of 24 acres. But the tendency to copy the "American way of life" with its potential social and ecological disadvantages is strong among Chinese people, a path they have to steer clear of.

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Given its huge area and population, and its enormous geographical, cultural and social diversity, China faces massive ecological problems. The country is already feeling the impact of climate change. The potential threats emerging from a changing environment and overstrained ecological systems include flooding, eutrophication, melting glaciers, shortage of drinking and irrigation water, reduced biodiversity, destructed landscapes, soil degradation, loss of arable land, desertification and land contamination.

One thing needed to solve all these problems and develop a proactive public contributing behavior is awareness among the people. China is the only country that has been controlling its population growth for three decades and thus contributing to global stability. Chinese people recycle secondary row materials and save resources extensively, even if to save money.

But there is more that they can do. For instance, they can redesign industrial processes to avoid waste generation and reduce pollution, and better integrate material and energy resources among different industrial sectors. Chinese households have to separate their waste at source, something that people in many European countries do. More integrated ecological network thinking is needed to understand why, for example, simply separating biodegradable waste in households is a valuable contribution to energy security, environmental protection and reducing greenhouse gas emission.

With its abundant biomass and organic waste resources, ranked highest in the world, China has the potential to replace 1 billion tons of coal, which is one-third of its current consumption, with biomass-based energy. The latest comparable figure in Germany is 23 percent of primary energy generated from biomass in 2050.

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