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Which Way Is the Wind Blowing on Climate in China?

As the runup to Copenhagen intensifies, the Guardian has a pair of stories today trying to discern the intentions of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter. From one:

For some months now, the mood music from China has been distinctly upbeat: a massive renewable energy drive that could see it surpass Europe's challenging targets for clean power by 2020, a climate change resolution passed for the first time by the country's top legislative body, the beginnings of a public debate about when Chinese emissions should peak to fall. ... But at a conference on reporting climate change last week, senior Chinese scientists and negotiators were in an altogether less emollient mood. The official Chinese position is snappily summarised as "shared burden, differentiated responsibilities", which roughly translates as: We're all in the same boat but it's your fault that it's taking on water, so you'd better do most of the baling.

A positive anecdote about China's interest in renewables—regardless of what they say in the negotiating rooms in November—comes from Harvard physicist Michael McElroy, who tells ScienceInsider about the official reception of a paper in Science last week.

Using meteorological data and engineering studies, he and his colleagues concluded that even if China doubles its consumption by 2030, a massive wind turbine construction program could provide all of that power at a reasonable cost per kilowatt hour.

That's a tall order, of course, but it doesn't appear anathama to China. McElroy notes that the study was given major, positive billing in China Daily, the English-language government newspaper in Beijing. McElroy has deep connections in the Chinese government, including a former role on a well-connected advisory board that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao meets with yearly. "I sense we haven't said something that they find negatively challenging," he said.

The cheapest wind energy in United States costs 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour; McElroy and his colleagues calculated that better turbines and intelligent placement of them could provide power at 7.6 cents per kilowatt hour. China could use help making the current turbines it has more efficient, says McElroy, and his team found that current turbines often sit away from the best wind. "You have to put the turbines in the right place," he says.