A report from the Climate Group found that China leads the world in installed renewable energy and is overtaking more developed countries in developing sustainable technologies.
The Climate Group, a nonprofit group backed by a several large corporations and regional and local governments around the world, found that China has reached 152 gigawatts of up-and-running renewable energy capacity, thanks to the world's largest hydroelectric capacity and the fifth-largest wind-power capacity. The country plans to double its renewable energy output to 15 per cent by 2020.
China is also a major exporter of renewable-energy technologies. It is second only to Japan in output of solar photovoltaic technology, and its output has doubled for each of the past four years. According to the report, China will become the world's leading exporter of wind turbines by 2009. It is also becoming a leader in solar water heaters, energy-efficient appliances, and rechargeable batteries.
The country has also introduced automobile fuel-efficiency standards that are 40 percent higher than those in the United States.
The report says that investment in renewable energy in China reached about $12 billion in 2007, making it second only to Germany.
Of course, by most measures, China is also the world's biggest polluter. The country's 1.3 billion citizens collectively emit 24 percent of global carbon emissions, more than any other country. According to an NPR report last year, 70 percent of China's energy comes from coal-fired power plants, which not only emit more carbon dioxide than petroleum and natural gas, but also soot, mercury, and radioactive trace elements, all of which are toxic to humans and other animals. China plans to build 500 additional coal-fired power plants in the next decade.
Still, the country's per capita emissions are only about a quarter of those of the United States. And some have argued that a portion of China's emissions – the Climate Group says 24 percent – are produced in the manufacture of goods for export and are therefore due to the consumption of Chinese goods by the West.
The Guardian quotes Chanhua Wu, Greater China director at the Climate Group, who says that China still has some challenges ahead: To avoid dangerous climate change, it must peak in greenhouse emissions no later than 2020, and it must reach an emissions goal of no greater than two tons per capita by 2050.
"The jury is still out on whether China and the other countries can reach these challenging targets, but the evidence [in the report] shows that China has already stared on a trajectory to becoming an important global hub for low carbon investment, innovation and growth in the coming decades," said Wu.
"I believe China will no longer be a developing country following where others have led, but a pioneer leading the way."
Update: You can download a PDF of the full report here.