Viewpoint: Climate Change And Global Poverty Can Only Be Solved Together
By Jeffrey Rissman, Head of Modeling & Energy Policy Expert at Energy Innovation and leads modeling efforts for Energy Policy Solutions.
China has achieved a feat unparalleled in modern history: In 30 years, the nation has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty; developed extensive infrastructure, commerce, and industry; and entered the ranks of middle-income countries. China now has the second-largest economy in the world, and it is on track to surpass the United States around 2030. Due to the recency and magnitude of China’s success, China has become the model that other nations look to when making their own development plans.
While it is entirely appropriate that leaders of developing countries seek to raise their citizens’ standard of living and develop their economies, they must avoid emulating China in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change and local pollution. Like the West before it, China built its development on the back of dirty energy: petroleum burned by vehicles and coal burned in power plants and industrial facilities.
China may have had little choice in how to power its growth, as clean energy options – such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars – were less technologically mature and considerably more expensive than they are today. Nonetheless, China’s ferocious consumption of fossil energy has led to severe human and environmental harms. More than 60% of the country’s groundwater is polluted with toxins, the soil is contaminated with arsenic and mercury, people in northern China die more than five years early due to air pollution, and China now contributes far more than any other nation to greenhouse gas emissions and hence to global warming.