Questioning Obama's sanity and Chinese motives has little basis in fact.
Since the announcement of the US-China agreement on GHG emissions reduction, there has been much debate on Daily Kos about the prospects of this leading to concrete changes as well as questioning China's motives and Mr. Obama's judgement.
Some skepticism is well-grounded and reasonable in the sense it recognizes the political roadblocks Mr. Obama faces with a Congress opposed in majority to making national commitments on GHG reductions and Clean Energy targets that will only get worse in the near term, and on the significant technical and economic challenges both the US and China face to make good on their commitments.
But other criticisms seem to be informed more by misconceptions, misinformation and prejudice rather than facts.
In particular, the ideas that Mr. Obama has somehow foolishly given away the store to China, or that Chinese are dishonest, misleading and playing games with no intention of meeting commitments, seems to have infected the popular narrative on both the Right and Left.
Some basic facts about accomplishments by the US and China during the Obama Administration, including data on clean energy investment and capacity installed in the period of 2009-2013 makes it clear how mistaken such assumptions are. Lets look at this and then reconsider some of the questions.
Clean Energy Investment in the G-20 2009 - 2013
The US and China are the No. 1 and No. 2 nations in the world not just in economic terms but also Greenhouse Gas emissions and, more recently, investment in renewable, clean energy.
A reliable source of information on Clean Energy investment, capacity and policy is the annual report Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race? jointly published by Pew Charitable Trusts and Bloomberg New Energy. The reports survey the activities of the G-20 nations who dominate global economics and GHG emissions, and provide detailed analysis of global and national trends including a profile of each nation. This is the source of data used in the charts below and I strongly recommend you read least the most recent report if not all.
2013 Edition (PDF)
2012 Edition (PDF)
2011 Edition (PDF)
2010 Edition (PDF)
2009 Edition (PDF)
In the charts, I use the most current data from these reports, as statistics from any given report may be subsequently adjusted upward or downward.
Above is aggregate investment in clean energy by country 2009 - 2013. Although China and USA lead, relative to their economies and GHG emissions countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain and South Africa invested more intensively or at a faster rate of growth. See the report for year by year breakdowns.
Above is a year by year breakdown of clean energy investment by the Top 5 spenders. China was No.1 four of five years and No.2 one year, while the US mirrored this in the No.2 and No.1 position. Japanese investment notably accelerated following the Fukushima incident while German and UK investments declined as the protracted economic recession in Europe constrained spending and feed-in tariffs in Germany moderated.
Above is installed (operating) clean energy by country by year. The rapidly accelerating trajectory of Chinese and US capacity reflects projects coming to fruition and both countries hitting stride as the costs of renewables (particularly wind and solar) decline and become competitive with fossil fuels. The rate dip in China's trajectory in 2012 reflected momentary over-saturation of wind projects completed ahead of grid connections
, not an unusual situation in developing countries. The rate dip in US trajectory in 2013 reflects the expiration of solar investment credits (policy action needed). Germany, despite moderating investment, shows the steady progress of maturing policy and markets, and example for other to follow.
Our final chart shows total clean energy capacity in the G-20 year by year. Clearly clean energy is taking root and beginning to mature as an industry so there is no reason the industry cannot accelerate if there is the political will to make it happen. Time to speed-up or die failing
Some Observations, and Questions Reconsidered
A few things are obvious:
• Clean energy has become a global industry and global market, and operates as a global enterprise. Back-yard experimenters don't generate Billions of dollars in revenue.
• The US, despite policy gridlock, has made significant progress and hit critical mass during Obama's term, and this was largely due to executive actions at the federal level and policy at state and local levels; Congress is behind the curve and gets ZERO credit.
• China is the largest market for clean energy and will remain so for years. China adopted national policies and goals for clean energy at the start of the Hu administration jump-starting an industry with exports while experimenting with small to medium scale deployment projects to feel the way; since the late 00's it has accelerated the pace of investment and will turn a corner in 2014 when clean energy overtakes coal in new capacity.
• Despite the cyclic nature of energy markets driven by economic and policy cycles, the renewables market for wind and solar has taken root globally and is gradually finding it's footing.
On that basis, we can conclude not only that clean energy is not a passing fancy, but can see that where it reaches critical mass in a market such as Germany, it produces virtuous cycles of productive investment and returns to society.
Now let's reconsider questions raised (on Daily Kos):
• Is Obama making promises he cannot keep? Well, unless the Kenyan succeeds in sending Congressional Republicans to the Obamacare/Net Neutrality work camps, he's got just 2 years to make things happen, so people might have a point. But that's what leaders do - point the way, lead the charge and finally watch from behind. The guy was badass this past week and that's my 2¢. Now YOU need to do your part: call your Congress-critter, you have one, I don't.
• Has Obama lost his mind and given away the farm to China? No. Two leaders agreed to team-up together to lead where they have a responsibility to do so. Each country will be responsible to hold up it's end of the bargain. This didn't happen in a day but over years as the product of a joint working group dating from late 2009 and it was a long and difficult path. If China (or the US) were not making real progress there would be no deal. No 13-dimensional chess, just work.
• True/False: "China doesn't have to do anything until 2030 and can back out at any time". Um ... kids, this is an adult discussion. Are you thinking they plan to do nothing and then magically throw a switch 2029 December 31? Or that they will be throwing billions invested down the drain on a whim because "Commies"? Please, leave this to Red State. Refer to the chart above, more than US$ 250 billion investment by China over 5 years and the rate is accelerating.
• True/False; "Chinese don't care about the world they only want to get things for themselves" (really, someone said this). True! Like most Chinese, I selfishly want clean air for myself and my family and a future for my 7 year old daughter. The world be damned, I'm going to get that. All Chinese are like this. BEWARE, Kossacks.
• True/Fasle: "The Communist Regime is just doing this to control the people; they are only doing this to stay in power" (really, people said this and not in a snarky way). Well, to quote one of the people saying so: "[sigh]". Most certainly environmental issues are at the forefront of public debate in China and have for several years for obvious reasons I don't have to explain. In fact, it's a rare case where a leader (Hu Jintao) came into office with a "vision thing" about "science" and championed clean energy to the point he was accused of running the economy off the rails (sound familiar?) with his wonkish "net negative GDP due to environmental costs" stuff. Yes, the people are now demanding a clean environment and the government better give it to them if they want to stay in power. Hint-Hint. Wink-Wink. DNC take note.
I think that just about covers the main objections I read, but if you have more questions or comments of course they are welcome, this is the internet.
Thanks for reading.