Consuming fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — which traps solar radiation in the Earth’s atmosphere. Over the past 200 years, humans have consumed more and more fossil fuels, leading to increased levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Atmospheric CO2 recently reached its highest level in more than 800,000 years: more than 400 parts per million.
These increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have caused average global surface temperatures to rise by about one degree Celsius or more since 1880, and 15 of the 16 warmest years on record happened since 2001. 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded until 2015, and now 2016 appears to have eclipsed them both in terms of warmth.
As Arctic ice has shrunk notably around the world in recent decades, sea levels have risen 6.7 inches over the 100 years; this rise in the sea level has made coastal storms more destructive. All of these changes have resulted from global warming, itself caused by consumption of fossil fuels by humans. Ongoing unchecked consumption of fossil fuels will increase the risks from extreme weather, drought, food shortages, and other global consequences.
China Leading Change
China is home to 1.35 billion people, and it produces twice the CO2 emissions as the world’s second-largest polluter, the United States — mostly from coal burning. However, the Chinese government is working hard to turn this problem around. China canceled plans for 104 coal-fired projects in 13 provinces in 2014, introduced a cap on coal as part of the Paris Agreement, and it will peak CO2 emissions by 2030.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics shows a 4.7 percent drop in coal consumption in 2016, indicating that the plan is working already. In fact, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook Report estimates that China’s coal use probably peaked in 2013, and has been falling significantly since that time. China is using multiple clean energy tactics to achieve its goals, and has begun a $474 billion renewable energy program; $361 billion of that will go into renewable fuel by 2020.
According to China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), in 2016 the country more than doubled its solar energy production. By the end of the year, China hit 77.42 gigawatts, allowing the generation of 66.2 billion kilowatt-hours of power. This made them the largest producer of solar energy in the world, at least in terms of capacity. NEA’s development plan indicates that China intends to add over 110 gigawatts of capacity by 2020.
China is also in the process of building the largest waste-to-energy plant in the world. The Shenzen East-to-Waste plant is only one of 300 facilities that generate sustainable energy as they address the mounting waste problem in the world’s most populous country. The Shenzen plant is scheduled to be online by 2020, and although it is not solely a green solution (as it produces some CO2 emissions), given its role in waste reduction, it is part of the overall green picture in China.