When Donald Trump pulled the United States out the Paris Agreement on Climate Change last month, he declared that the historic international accord "hamstrings the United States while empowering some of the world's top polluting countries." He was talking about China and India.
True, both countries are expected to increase emissions as their economies continue to grow in the coming years. But they have also stated that their long-term economic strategy is to reduce their respective national carbon footprints. And even more than decisions from the White House, the success of India and China in making a shift to environmentally-friendly policies is crucial to surviving the effects of climate change. The two countries currently comprise some 37% of the total world population, and will top 3 billion people over the next decade, writes the Mumbai-based Economic Times in a report on new United Nations population forecasts.
But even with the greenest of intentions, there are major questions about exactly how to confront climate change. Just a few days after Trump made his announcement, the world's largest floating solar farm opened in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui. The 40-megawatt power plant, comprised of 160,000 panels, sits atop a flooded coal mine. It is the largest energy project of its kind in the world and the Chinese authorities were sure to release mind-blowing video images of the complex.
China has a penchant for thinking big. In 2012, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River generated a world-record 98.8 terawatt-hours. Today, deep inside the Chinese heartland, the national government is constructing the world's largest wind farm. When completed in 2020, the Gansu Wind Farm will produce 20,000 MW, nearly 2.5 times the Bruce Nuclear Station, the world's largest nuclear generation facility.
India has said that it too will pursue ambitious green energy projects in the coming decades. Le Monde reported this week on the latest grand declaration from the government of Narendra Modi that India would become the first major country in the world to shift completely to electric vehicles. But with an economy that is only one-fifth the size of China's and a far more decentralized government, India will find it harder to finance projects at the national level. Indeed, observers have taken New Delhi's green energy plans, including the development of a dozen "smart cities," with a grain of salt.
The South Asian country's push toward renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation has instead relied on numerous smaller, often local or private, initiatives. Energy Service Companies (ESCO), which make profit from what they save their customers on energy, have become increasingly popular in the country. One government ESCO has helped to drive down the cost of LED lighting as part of a nationwide initiative to replace 770 million house lights and streetlamps with this new technology. The project is expected to cut India's CO2 emissions by 80 million tons.
The smaller-scale "Indian model," with its focus on state government and private initiative, might be America's future as well. Already dozens of cities, states, and companies have committed themselves to the Paris Accord in spite of the Trump's June announcement. Ultimately, scientists and policymakers tell us that saving the planet from global warming isn't an either/or question. National and local governments, India and China, you, me and everyone we know: we will all need to change the way we make laws, conduct business and live our lives.
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