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By Julian Wong Dec.31.2012
In: uncategorized
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Green Leap Forward 2.0

After that grand return, its time to sink our teeth into the substance of the next chapter of the Green Leap Forward.  Following a two and a half year hiatus and shortly after celebrating GLF’s 5th Anniversary earlier this month, we resume our watch on China and all the ways it is succeeding and failing at creating a more sustainable future.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes...

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes…

In this reincarnation, GLF will do things slightly differently from its first five years.

  • We’ll cover more than just sustainability – the Chinese government has to juggle competing priorities, and how China fairs in providing economic welfare and ensuring social stability will influence how much resources to channel towards sustainability (although how China fairs in promoting sustainability will surely affect how it fairs economically and socially as well). Furthermore, international relations, both political and economic, will shape how China manages its natural resources, and vice versa.  In short, a systems thinking approach will be employed to understand the political economy of sustainability in China.
  • We’ll cover more than just China – sustainability is poorly understood.  Here at GLF, we’ll lay down some universal principles of sustainability along the way, and apply them real life examples in China and other places.
  • We’ll cover more than just energy and climate.  When we speak of sustainability, energy is just one of four pillars in the emerging food-water-energy-waste nexus.  Here at GLF, we’ll seek a more balanced treatment of all four nexi.
  • We’ll avoid the trap of Read the full story
By Julian Wong Dec.6.2012
In: uncategorized
1 comment

"" - Low Carbon Gangnam Style fever hits Beijing

Yes, we are back, and back with a bang!   This new video by G Fresh and @sustainablejohn is just the sort of epic “bang” that Green Leap Forward is coming back with:

Directed by Sustainable John @sustainablejohn (twitter) @罗大翰 (weibo)
Producer: An Na; Editor: Sustainable John, Lyrics: Sustainable John; Choreography: Yu Fei; Filming: Tim Quijano; An Na, Zhang Yuchen; Green PSY: George Ding; Dancers: Liu Dan, Guan Fei, Wang Zhuqing, Sustainable John; Sound: Busy Bee Studios, Beijing

GLF had an exclusive one-line SMS interview with @sustainablejohn this morning that went like this: Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jul.31.2010
In: uncategorized


After more than two and a half years of blogging, I am sad to announce that I will have to take an indefinite break from contributing original pieces to this site.

Starting Monday, I begin a new stint with the U.S. government at the Department of Energy representing the United States in our collaborations with the Chinese government to develop clean energy solutions to protect the health and future of our children and build a new foundation of economic prosperity.  Due to the nature of my new job, I will not be able to blog in the way I have for the previous 170 posts, but I am pretty confident that some day I will be right back with more writing.  It is addictive.

I would like to thank all my Read the full story

Green Hops: It's Been a While! (And the next may be for a while)

Haven’t done a Green Hops for a long time, so there are lots of developments over the past weeks to catch up on!

Ten-Year New Energy Development Plan Closed to being Unveiled

State media is reporting that the National Energy Administration has finalized a 10-year new energy development plan that will require a cumulative investment of 5 trillion yuan  ($740 billion) to realize.  The plan, which is a strategy to help China realize its goals to achieve 15 percent of its primary energy mix from non-fossil sources and also to reduce its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, will be sent to the State Council for approval.

This plan seems to be the long-awaited new energy stimulus plan that GLF blogged about more than a year ago with baited breath, and in fact seems to provide almost double the investment dollars.  I would, however, strongly caution against assuming that this investment estimate will translate to direct funding by the central government.  Most likely, just like the economic stimulus package of 2008, this amount represents a total investment amount that will be provided by a combination of central, provincial and local governments in addition to the private sector (see my presentation at CSIS earlier this year).

That said, the details released so far are still impressive.  Important to note is the comprehensive breadth of sectors that fall under the “new energy” concept-its not just renewables such as wind, solar and biomass, but also energy efficiency, nuclear, smart (and strong) grid, transportation, unconventional natural gas, and more efficient use of fossil fuels.

A notable winner of this plan is natural gas, a hitherto minor energy resource for China (see picture).  The NEA estimates that natural gas will account for 8 percent of China’s energy needs by 2015 at 260 billion cubic meters, compared to just 4 percent of a smaller energy supply base today at around 100 bcm.  As the Financial Times blog recognizes, this strategic push for natural gas represents an economic opportunity for foreign firms with the right expertise.

New Energy Car Subsidies

In June, new subsidies for the private purchase of “new energy cars” came into effect ona pilot basis in five cities-Shanghai, Changchun, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Hefei.  The scheme provides up 3,000 yuan ($440) for fuel-efficient cars below 1.6 liters in engine capacity, and up to 50,000 yuan ($7,400) for plug-in hybrids and 60,000 yuan ($8,900) for pure electric vehicles for private consumers.  This new program is different from the 13-city new energy vehicle subsidy a few years ago which targeted public fleets (this will be expanded to 20 cities).

Beijing was a notable omission from this new 5-city pilot program, and according to my conversations Read the full story

By Julian Wong
In: coal, collaboration, innovation
1 comment

China's Innovation Model and its Role in the Global Clean Energy Market

This is slightly dated by now but I want to be sure this is posted for posterity’s sake.  In mid-May I participated in a panel discussion at the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center here in Washington, DC.   The topic of discussion was “Decarbonizing King Coal: Growing U.S.-China Clean Technology Cooperation”, and my fellow panelists Ming Sun of Clean Air Task Force (pictured right) and Albert Lin representing Future Fuels, LLC (pictured left) had very interesting perspectives on the role of “clean coal” in China’s energy future.  (And that’s me in the center of the pic.) The focus of my presentation was to provide a more macro look at China’s innovation capacity in clean energy technologies.  The whole sessions can be accessed at this archived webcast.

For the convenience of readers, I am pasting my presentation outline (as prepared, but not necessarily delivered) here: Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jul.30.2010
In: innovation, policy

How to Deal with Chinese Green Protectionism: A U.S. Perspective

This is a repost of my final column at Center for American Progress that was also reposted on Climate Progress, and an adaptation of excerpts of my recent full written testimony before Congress.

Foreign governments’ and businesses’ frustration and disgruntlement over China’s restrictions on trade and foreign investment is reaching fever pitch. First it was Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric in a speech in Rome earlier this month raising the question of whether China “want[s] any of us to win, or any of us to be successful.” Then it was the chief executives of BASF and Siemens together with German chancellor Angela Merkel in an exchange with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last weekend in Beijing, who all reportedly used pointed language to call China’s restrictive foreign investment and trade policies to question. These complaints, while valid, point to a larger problem here in the United States—we give the Chinese government leverage by not giving companies valid market alternatives.

There has been particular attention on Chinese government policies in the clean energy sector that favor domestic companies and products over their foreign counterparts. This is a new industry and represents a rapidly growing market for foreign firms. But there is also a widely held notion in the international business community that clean energy should be more open to foreign competition since it doesn’t raise the same national security concerns as tightly held industries such as defense or telecommunications.

Despite a substantial 19.6 percent rise in foreign investments into China over the first six months of this year, there is still a growing question whether China is using industrial policy beyond legitimate means of promoting domestic development of fledgling industries, and actively shutting out foreign competition so as to cultivate national champions. After all, China’s Medium-to-Long Term National Plan for Science and Technology Development, or S&T Plan, released in 2006, does explicitly call for the “the country’s reliance on foreign technology [to] decline to 30 percent or below.”

The frontlines of this debate lie in the Chinese government’s policies to promote homegrown innovation, or “indigenous innovation” as it is called. The National Indigenous Innovation Accreditation Program, initially announced last November, directs Chinese government agencies and provincial governments to procure products listed in a newly created product catalog covering six categories from companies that meet certain criteria. The release had foreign businesses up in arms. Foreign companies rightly charge that the criteria used to determine whether or not a firm’s product qualifies for the catalog discriminates against their products and excludes them from potentially lucrative Chinese government procurement contracts.

Excellent overviews of the details surrounding these government procurement guidelines are available elsewhere, but several points are worth bearing in mind. First, what the Chinese government is doing is Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jul.29.2010
In: innovation, policy
1 comment

Of Solar Tech and Chicken McNuggets: My Testimony Before the U.S.-China Commission

Two weeks ago I testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, or USCC, a specialized body created by the U.S. Congress tomonitor, investigate, and submit to congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action.”

The hearing was about China’s policies to promote green technologies, and was actually held in Toledo, Ohio, a city struggling economically due to its long-standing codependence on nearby Detroit’s ailing auto industry, but which also sees some sort of future in clean energy technologies.

Below is my oral statement, which lasted just 7 minutes long.

I also submitted 13 pages of written testimony, available here (pdf, as submitted to the USCC and has footnote citations) or here (html, repost on Climate Progress). I encourage the reader to read the full testimony as it allowed me to go much more in depth on specific things.  The first part of the testimony may be familiar to faithful readers of this blog; it is primarily an adaptation of a chapter I wrote for a larger Center for American Progress report called “Out of the Running?” that provides an account for China’s comprehensive approach to developing its “new energy” sector.  The latter part is more original stuff, as I (i) make the case for how China’s clean energy push is in fact consistent with its overall economic reform , e.g. Scientific Development, reduction of excess industrial capacity, natural resource price reform, western development, boosting domestic consumption, and Going Out strategy; (ii) describe China’s activities in innovation and R&D and its desire to create, not just produce, energy technologies of the 21st century; (iii) address criticisms that China’s “indigenous innovation” policies are protectionist in nature by pointing out the myopia of such observations from a US (or EU for that matter) policymakers point of view; (iv) provide thoughts about what the proper U.S. policy response should be.

My Oral Statement:

Download the full written testimony (pdf)

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify before this distinguished commission on China’s policies to develop clean energy technologies.

My name is Julian Wong and I am a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I speak before you today after having spent the past two and a half years of my professional life almost exclusively devoted to analyzing China’s energy policies. Three months ago, I led a delegation of senior staffers from the Center, along with key Senate staffers from Ohio and other important districts, to Beijing and the surrounding area to look at China’s advances in clean energy.

In a Washington Post op-ed last year, two esteemed business leaders, venture capitalist John Doerr and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, said Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jul.9.2010
In: agriculture, biofuels, hydro, water

The FoodEnergyWater Nexus: An Integrated Approach to Understanding Chinas Resource Challenges

In this post, originally published in Harvard Asia Quarterly. I draw the connections among food, water and energy systems in China and make the case for the urgent need for more integrated approaches to resource management.

Related posts:

China’s rapidly growing economy is very quickly testing the limits of its resource constraints. While China is home to a quarter of the world’s population, it is endowed with disproportionately less arable land, oil and water.

Such natural resources are vital to any nation’s ability to be self-sufficient, but China’s predicament is especially dire not only because of its large population, but also its rapid urbanization and climate change, both of which will exert more intensive demands on food, energy and water supply. Yet, other than recognizing that water is essential for agriculture, the discussion of each resource constraint is often conducted in isolation, without paying heed to the inter-linkages of food, energy and water systems.

The Example of the Yangtze River
China’s Yangtze River (pictured right) is the third longest in the world and stretches over 6,000 kilometers from the Qinghai Plateau in the west towards the East China Sea at Shanghai. Throughout China’s history, it has played a central role culturally, socially, and economically. It is the unofficial dividing line between China’s north and south, flows through deep gorges in Yunnan Province that have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and serves as the lifeblood upon which much of China’s agricultural and industrial activity has depended on to the present day. All told, the Yangtze River system produces 40 percent of the nation’s grain, a third of its cotton, 48 percent of its freshwater fish and 40 percent of its total industrial output value.
The Yangtze has now become a victim of its own success. With China’s rapid economic industrialization over the past three decades, the Yangtze has evolved from a source of life and prosperity to a symptom of the limits of China’s unabated economic pursuits. It has become a depository for 60 percent of the country’s pollution, making it the single largest source of pollution in the Pacific Ocean. The Yangtze is also home to two massive and highly controversial hydraulic projects—the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydro-electric power facility, and the South-North Water Diversification (SNWD) project (see map illustration below), an unprecedented, multi-decade effort to channel water from the water-rich south to the arid north—each a symptom of a larger ill. The former project points to China’s struggles to maintain energy security and desire to use cleaner sources of energy in a carbon-constrained world, while the latter points to its sheer desperation to address a gross imbalance in the distribution and use of water resources across the Chinese sub-continent.

Neither project comes on the cheap; the Three Gorges Dam bore a price tag of US$30 billion and the SNWD project is projected to cost twice that. Both projects have caused, or will continue to cause, the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of citizens and the significant alteration of landscapes, including the destruction of arable land. Needless to say, both projects have required, or will require, massive inputs of concrete, steel and energy. Together, Three Gorges and SNWD point to a fragile interrelationship between energy, water and food. Beyond the Yangtze, the “food–water–energy trilemma” represents a looming and complex threat to China’s economic stability and national security.

Climate change now stands front and center of energy and environmental agendas around the world. In virtually every case, Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jul.8.2010
In: policy

Interview with The Atlantic on China and the Clean Energy Race

Its been busy and its time to play catchup on some of the work I’ve been doing in recent weeks.  Let me start by republishing a recent conversation I had with Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, originally published here.

DT: My readers are always asking how climate change legislation in the U.S. could impact China’s energy policy. In broad strokes, how is China moving on green energy already?

Me: It’s across the board. In China they have for several years already realized that their direction is not sustainable. They have undertaken some of the most ambitious programs in energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment in the world. They’ve created medium and long term plans and set national numerical targets, such as producing 100 to 150 Gigawatts of wind energy by 2020. There is a national goal of reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP over the 2005 to 2010 term by 20 percent. In the run-up to Copenhagen they promised to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon intensity.

Have they kept up with their promises in the last few years?

Well, we saw great progress between 2006 and 2008. But the financial crisis forced them to respond with a stimulus package that allocated a lot of money to infrastructure projects that had the result of stimulating heavy industry. That caused energy efficiency to decrease. But the central government has taken that setback very seriously.

We’re having trouble convincing lawmakers to pass significant energy legislation in the States because many of them don’t see an upside in aggressive legislation. What good does China see in all these energy plans?

Five things. The number one concern is energy security. China is already a net importer of coal, despite conventional wisdom that they have abundant coal resources. That’s because a lot of the supply is in remote areas while the demand is more on the coast, and there’s inadequate logistics capacity to move the coal around. Also, they already import 50% of their oil. Their auto market is the biggest in the world, yet it’s just getting started. Car penetration rates are a fraction of the U.S. As it continues to grow, China will see increased demand for petroleum products.

Second, pollution is a factor. Local pollution incidents create social disruption that has led to citizens’ unrest. This is important because the Chinese’ mandate in power is predicated on social stability. Three, China sees the investment in green tech as a driver of innovation and economic growth. They need to conserve resources and are looking for less resource intensive sources. Fourth, tech innovation will create jobs and lift the nation. Fifth, they feel international pressure to start acting on mitigating climate change and they want to be seen as a partner in this field.

What evidence have you seen that China is acting on these bold plans? Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jun.2.2010
In: energy efficiency
1 comment

Reversal of Energy Intensity Trend Ilicits Iron Resolve

State Council presses for accountability for urgent energy conservation measure; NDRC issues 12-point circular to deepen economic reform.

If China is to achieve its 20 percent reduction in energy intensity in the current five year period, it will have to undertake some drastic actions in the months that remain.

And drastic action is just what the Premier has ordered.

Last month, the central government announced that energy intensity for the first quarter of this year rose 3.2 percent (from what baseline is not clear, although the press is saying its from Q1’09 rather than Q4’09).  This represents a reversal of a downward trend-the first time since first half of 2006 that energy intensity has actually risen.  This news also comes in a month after it was announced that China’s first quarter GDP grew by a remarkable 11.9% year-on-year, signaling that a recovery from the financial crisis is in full swing and stoking fears of inflation.

At the end of 2009, the government reported that China had achieved a 14.38 percent reduction in energy intensity from 2005 levels, putting it slightly behind pace (16 percent) to achieve its 2010 target of 20 percent.  That said, no one I’ve spoken to about China’s energy intensity numbers understands how the government arrives at its statistics.  Recall previous guest post on this issue, and this more recent reflection.  At best, China is at 8 percent energy intensity reduction, folks tell me.  But whether its 8 percent or 14 percent, the admission by the government that energy intensity has started to go up means that it will be extremely difficult under any circumstance to hit that cherished 2010 target.

The rise in energy intensity is attributed to the resurgent heavy industry sectors that were the beneficiaries of the economic stimulus program.  So much for all that hype about China having the greenest stimulus in the world.  (As I recently pointed out, the reality about China’s “green stimulus” is much more complicated.)

But now, Premier Wen and the State Council have apparently had enough.  In a nationally televised videoconference, Premier Wen used very strong language, saying that energy conservation is a “fundamental national policy” that concerns the “survival and development of the Chinese people.”  Government communications have gone on to attribute Premier Wen as using the vivid metaphor of needing to use an “iron hand” (“采取铁的手腕“) to eliminate backward heavy industrial production capacity.

Wen went on to describe seven broad points of urgent action (in Chinese).  These seven points were a subset of 14 points outlined by the State Council (in Chinese), which consist of the following headings:

  1. Strengthen the sense of urgency and responsibility for energy conservation. Read the full story