Prime Polluter China May Also Lead In Green Technology

China currently produces more CO2 than any other country in the world, but it's also poised to be the next leader in green technology. Host Liane Hansen talks to Barbara Finamore, founder and director of the China program at the National Resources Defense Council about China's green initiatives and how they compare to what's happening in the U.S.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

China is going green. China's President Hu Jintao told the U.N. General Assembly that last week and outlined his country's plan to fight global climate change.

While China currently produces more CO2 than any other country in the world, it's also poised to be the next leader in green technology. Wind turbines are being built to replace its coal-powered plants and plans are underway to introduce the world's first mass-produced all-electric car.

Barbara Finamore is the founder and director of the China program at the NRDC, the National Resources Defense Council, and she joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to the program.

Ms. BARBARA FINAMORE (Founder and Director, China Program, National Resources Defense Council): Good morning.

HANSEN: China has millions of people who are moving rather quickly into the middle class. And as income rises, energy consumption is bound to rise as well. More and more people are driving cars than in the past. What is China doing to get past that surge?

Ms. FINAMORE: China is taking steps through policy tools, investment and subsidies for clean tech. It could become the largest clean tech market in the world. There was a new study that just came out by a group of 80 leading technology companies and entrepreneurs from around the world, and it found that China's clean tech market could be worth as much as $500 billion to $1 trillion a year by 2013.

HANSEN: This shift to new energy technology, it's been likened to something as having the fervor of a new space race toward the next what will be industrial revolution. Is China pulling ahead in this race?

Ms. FINAMORE: I would not compare the development of a green tech market in China to a space race, because green tech is not an area where one country wins and another loses. It's an area where development of a clean tech market benefits everybody.

HANSEN: President Obama has been criticized by environmentalists for not doing enough with regard to climate change. China was also criticized, but they seem to be acting more quickly than the United States. I just want to bring up a New York Times opinion page piece that was written by Thomas Freedman. And he said: sometimes a one-party autocracy has its advantages. And he was contrasting it to a one-party democracy that we seem to have in the United States at this point. Is China in a position to implement difficult environmental decisions quickly?

Ms. FINAMORE: To some extent, China is more able than the United States to set ambitious targets for things like renewable energy. But I would say in the last eight to ten years in the United States, there has been a tremendous amount of path-breaking work going on at the state level, particularly in California. And some of the policies that California has put into place, such as its very ambitious solar energy incentives have become the model for China.

HANSEN: You've been working on this issue in China for, what, 15 years?

Ms. FINAMORE: I began in RGC's China Clean Energy Program 15 years ago. I remember when I first went to Jiangsu province, which is California's sister province and one of the most advanced economically in China, nearly 15 years ago to talk about them about energy efficiency. And nobody there wanted to hear what we had to say. Instead, they said our goal is to electrify the country.

But about five years later when massive blackouts and brownouts swept the country because China could not keep up with its skyrocketing energy demand, those very same people came back to us and said, what were you saying about energy efficiency? Now we'd like to listen.

HANSEN: Barbara Finamore, director and founder of the National Resources Defense Council's China program. Thank you very much.

Ms. FINAMORE: Thank you.

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