I was at a club on Saturday night celebrating a friend’s birthday and found myself—no, not on the dance floor—trying to talk over loud, pounding music about China’s energy policies.

A friend of a friend had remarked that the US shouldn’t bother reducing emissions if China kept on the track it’s on. So, I was glad I’d recently written up a practical, three-step how-to guide for debunking this very line.

It’s true that China’s galloping economy means that the country’s total emissions are on the rise—big time. But this week, in a comprehensive report on renewable energy in China, Worldwatch Institute provided another couple of talking points to add to my list of reasons why the US can’t afford to sit around while China gets busy. You see, China may be leading the world in emissions—but they’re leading on some green fronts too:

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    • China will likely achieve—and may even exceed—its target to obtain 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. If China’s commitment to diversifying its energy supply and becoming a global leader in renewables manufacturing persists, renewable energy could provide over 30 percent of the nation’s energy by 2050.
    • As reported in NewScientist, the European Union, which currently gets about 7 percent of its energy from renewable sources, last spring set a target to increase this to 20 percent by 2020.According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the US obtained 4.2 percent of its primary energy from renewables in 2004, and it has not set any goals for future increases.
    • China’s carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise and have now exceeded total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, although Chinese per-capita emissions are about one-fourth those of the United States. 
    • More than $50 billion was invested in renewable energy worldwide in 2006, and China is expected to invest over $10 billion in new renewables capacity in 2007, second only to Germany and twice the amount invested by the US in 2006. Wind and solar energy are expanding particularly rapidly in China, with production of wind turbines and solar cells both doubling in 2006.
    • China is poised to pass world solar and wind manufacturing leaders in Europe, Japan, and North America in the next three years, and it already dominates the markets for solar hot water and small hydropower.

    According to Worldwatch, the combination of ambitious targets supported by strong government policies and the manufacturing capacities of the Chinese put the country in a “position to ‘leapfrog’ industrialized nations in renewable technology in the years immediately ahead.”

    It’s not easy to holler about this stuff in a noisy bar, but it’s easy to gently remind your friends—or anyone else—that when it comes to global climate change, we’re all in this together,  Americans and Chinese and the rest.

    With world demand for coal increasing (especially in the developing world) and global carbon dioxide levels on the rise as well (with two-thirds of a predicted 57 percent increase by 2030 to be shared by the US, China, India, and Russia), the International Energy Agency (IEA) sums it up best in its World Energy Outlook 2007 (also released this past week): “The emergence of China and India as major players in global energy markets makes it all the more important that all countries take decisive and urgent action to curb runaway energy demand. The primary scarcity facing the planet is not of natural resources nor money, but time.”