China stakes its future on a green energy revolution

China is using it’s deep pockets to spend it’s way out of the climate change doghouse. The Government is ploughing billions into renewables and this year has summarily shut down tens of thousands of it’s polluting coal factories.

Emerging front and centre of its action on climate change is an e-car revolution. The country has quickly become the biggest developer, manufacturer and seller of electric cars.

We visited a factory in Shandong called Lichi EV. Since President Xi committed to the Paris Climate Change agreement two years ago its production has increased from 20,000 a year to 90,000 this year.

“Thanks to government incentives we are expecting huge growth in the future," deputy manager Wu Fangxiu told ITV News.

"There’s now a policy to gradually abolishing gas-consuming cars, and e-cars will have more and more market share.”

Workers engineer one of thousands of new e-cars rolling off production lines. Credit: ITV News

From next year one in every five cars made China will be required to run on alternative fuel.

It’s one of many new laws the Government has introduced to phase out petrol and diesel. From the start of 2018 all government vehicles and public transport will shift to alternative energy.

And there are already signs in Beijing, at least, that President Xi’s crackdown on coal and emissions is working.

In 2017 the air in China’s capital has been the cleanest in five years. The air quality index which those of us who live here consult on a daily basis has been consistently lower than in previous years.

The watch period is winter when the heating gets switched on - the heating, and indeed, air conditioning in China are centrally controlled so there is a date in November when homes and offices gradually start receiving heat, and in summer there is a date when the air con will start working.

Skyscrapers are barely visible through a heavy smog in Beijing. Credit: ITV News

It was during the winter switch on in 2015 that successive red alerts for smog were issued. Air in the capital was deemed too hazardous to go outside. That happened while President Xi was in Paris committing China to the climate change accord.

Xi Jingping was the first Chinese leader to attend the climate talks and the subsequent lead he took on the Paris accord with President Obama was a significant statement of intent.

Now, with President Donald Trump retreating from the agreement it is President Xi, the leader of the world’s biggest polluter, who now stands at the forefront of climate action.

President Xi Jingping has committed China to ambitious targets. Credit: AP

And while huge progress has been made, it’s not hard to scratch the surface and see the radical climate change agenda hasn’t quite reached beyond the middle classes in Beijing driving around in their fancy new e-cars.

Two hours from the capital, in the village of Cangzhou, the rush to switch from coal to gas has left several homes without heating.

Almost every house in the village has been fitted with shiny new gas pipes but as winter has taken hold, it has become clear there is not yet a reliable gas supply.

Many villagers just outside Beijing are still using coal to warm their homes. Credit: ITV News

We immediately found a house with a pile of coal outside and in the courtyard met Lao Liang. She told us she can’t afford to use the gas they’ve installed, and has been secretly continuing to burn coal, hoping the government won’t notice.

At another property we visited, resident Lao Chen said several people had complained to the local authorities because it was freezing inside their homes, the gas kept on getting cut off and temperatures were down to minus six. She said they have no choice but to keep using coal.

In a country of 1.4 billion people, there will be those who don’t quite get swept up in the President’s Green revolution, but Xi Jingping has staked his global reputation on the Paris Climate Change agreement and the country will be forced to adjust to a cleaner, greener China.