I'm not sure when it happened exactly but at some point over the last five years China became the world's favourite excuse. It has become the dog that ate the homework, the leaves on the line, and the dodgy pint all rolled into one.
For any politician or business leader looking for a reason not to act on climate change China has emerged as the "yeah, but" option of choice.
Sadly, the fact that the "But Sir, China's doing far worst" line of reasoning wouldn't look out of place in a primary school classroom has not proved enough to stop people who should know far better (you know who you are Blair) from using it.
The net result is that the statistic about the country building a new coal fired power station every week (or is it every two weeks, no one seems quite sure) has been repeated so many times it has become meaningless and western governments have managed to conceal their often embarrassing climate change policies behind a Chinese fig leaf.
Increasingly however there are signs emerging that this line of reasoning is not just intellectually and morally bankrupt – the atmosphere does not care where emissions come from and nor should we - it is also just plain wrong.
According to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, far from being an eco-villain China is ready to leapfrog the very countries that cite it as the main reason for their inaction.
As with everything to do with China the numbers are impressive: $10bn will be invested in renewable energy this year, placing China second only to Germany in the world rankings; production of wind turbines and solar cells doubled in 2006 and should overtake the West within three years; solar PV production capacity jumped from 350MW in 2005 to over 1,000 MW in 2006, with 1,500 MW expected in 2007; 100 million square metres of solar hot water panels were operational by the end of 2006; and wastes from agricultural facilities in China could yield 80 billion cubic metres of biogas annually.
This revolution should not be a surprise to any one. It stands to reason that China will, in theory at least, find it easier to transition to a low carbon economy than more developed economies.
It is far easier to build an energy grid powered by renewable energy from scratch than it is to slowly dismantle your fossil fuel based infrastructure and replace it with a newer, greener version. Equally, it should be far simpler to give a city a green overhaul if that city is growing and you can incorporate sustainable design into new buildings and neighbourhoods as they are constructed rather than once they are already up. All it takes is a willingness to plan properly and enforce green standards – something the Chinese government claims to have in spades. Meanwhile, low costs should make China the ideal location for multinationals to site their clean tech projects.
Of course, it would be wrong to suggest everything in the Chinese garden is rosy. The country still faces numerous environmental problems, but in many ways it is these problems that are the driving force behind the current green investment.
According to Worldwatch, China's reliance on coal for 80 per cent of its power coupled with a boom in car ownership means that only one per cent of urban Chinese breathe air that meets European air quality standards. But it is this tragic statistic that at least partly explains why a recent BBC survey found that Chinese consumers are more interested in green products and initiatives than their western counterparts - pollution effects them directly and they want something done about it.
This popular pressure is combining with economic realities to ensure that Chinese investment in renewables will only accelerate. The country's political elite know that its economic revolution is unsustainable without a major diversification of its energy supplies. Power shortages are already hampering growth and with the country poised to take over from the US as the world's biggest polluter international calls for action are only going to increase.
The net result is that like any green investment trend China's renewables revolution is driven more by self interest than any love of nature. But either way the oft-quoted myth - let's call it the Bush folly - that China is not doing much to address climate change so the West can't be expected to do much either is now as far from reality as it is detached from logic.
Perhaps Western leaders are going to have to find some new excuses. It shouldn't be too hard; after all they have had years of practice.
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