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China offers surprise hope in climate change fight

there's always a better way
by Staff Writers
Yanqing, China (AFP) Oct 3, 2007
Teenager Zhu Xiaotong's home a few hours' drive outside Beijing is a world away from the acrid air and snarling traffic jams that have come to dominate China's energy-hungry capital.

Cherry tomatoes, capsicum and spring onions rise up from a little garden patch that forms the centrepiece of her family's brick courtyard home, while a solar panel heater ensures the Zhu's have warm water even in winter.

Zhu, the 19-year-old daughter of cabbage farmers, has also for the past few months cooked the family meal in their sparse kitchen on a new eco-friendly stove that burns crop waste ultra-efficiently instead of noxious coal.

"There was a lot of smoke when we burnt the coal, but now there's no smoke at all. Coal smoke used to make us cough," she said on a recent clear sunny day at their home in Yanqing, a picturesque farming district.

The Zhu family stove, in fact, is being held up as a symbol of what many may be surprised to hear -- that China could be one of the world's saviours in combatting global warming.

Former US vice president Al Gore recently presented Chinese firm Daxu, the makers of the stove, with an Ashden Award, a high-profile British honour that promotes world-leading sustainable technologies.

China's environment is undoubtedly under unprecedented pressure as its 1.3 billion people rush to live modern, Western lifestyles, and it continues to rely on global-warming culprit coal for 70 percent of its expanding energy needs.

In fact, China has quickly caught up with the United States as the world's biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming.

But China is also quietly emerging as a global force in renewable energy technologies, from big-ticket items such as wind and solar power to small products like the Zhu's stove.

This is being driven by strong government policies, its own vast market and businesses seizing opportunities in a fast-growing global industry, according to the China programme manager for Worldwatch Institute, Yingling Liu.

-- "China has potential to be a world leader" --

"China has the potential to be a world leader in the renewable energy sector," Washington-based Liu told AFP.

"What is promising is that changes (in China) are happening in the right directions towards cleaner and more sustainable energy sources, and the trends will likely be accelerated."

China currently gets eight percent of its energy from renewable sources, and the official target is to build that up to around 15 percent by 2020.

And while most of that comes from hydropower, a scan around China's countryside and even its cities shows that some other renewable technologies have already become more widespread in the developing Asian nation than in rich countries.

Solar water heaters such as the one used at the Zhu's home can be seen on the roofs of remote village homes and endless lines of new apartments in China's rapidly emerging urban sprawl.

Meanwhile, China's status as the world's "factory floor" and its ability to drive product costs down globally is being seen as an even bigger cause for optimism in the struggle against climate change.

Currently, fossil fuels remain a cheaper source for power than wind, solar and other renewables, while energy-efficient products often cost more than their energy-hungry equivalents.

"The price of these technologies will only come down if countries like China start manufacturing them," said Greenpeace China climate and energy campaign manager Yang Ailun.

In one example, which has ironically drawn anti-dumping tariffs from the European Union, China has emerged as the world's biggest and cheapest exporter of energy-saving light bulbs.

Solar technology is another. While solar power, as opposed to water heaters, is yet to take off dramatically in China due to high costs, Chinese businesses are beginning to dominate the global market.

Chinese scientist-turned-entrepreneur Shi Zhengrong is a billionaire thanks to his Suntech Power company, a New York-listed firm that is one of the world's leading makers of photovoltaic equipment that turns sunlight into electricity.

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More droughts, floods for Australia as globe heats up
Sydney (AFP) Oct 2, 2007
Floods and droughts will become more frequent in Australia and cyclones more intense, as the world's driest inhabited continent heats up due to global warming, a new scientific report warned Tuesday.







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