Where is the world’s biggest transit system? Not London or New York, but Shanghai, with 282 stations and 420km of tracks. The national government has committed $150 billion for transit between now and 2015. That is in comparison with the $2 billion per year the United States federal government is spending on transit nationwide.
It seems possible that China will end up being the critical country, when it comes to deciding what course humanity will follow on climate change mitigation. For one thing, there is so much growth there that there are constant new opportunities to design things in innovative ways. For another, their system of government may be better suited to considering things from a long-term perspective than those in the west, as well as potentially more resistant to distortions of science.
Understanding what is happening in China is very challenging for outsiders – who can choose to focus on the ominous pace of coal power plant construction, or on the emergence of China as a dominant player in wind power.
Some of the biggest questions seem to be:
- How will China’s domestic energy system develop? Will they be willing to shift away from coal, despite the economic risks?
- What role will China play in multilateral climate negotiations? Will they ever join up with the U.S. to form the backbone of a strong new agreement?
- How will China’s bilateral relations with other developing states affect their development and emission trajectories? Will China just be a rapacious consumer of raw materials, or could it export low-carbon forms of development?
- Will the Chinese Communist Party remain dominant? If not, will it be succeeded by something more democratic, something chaotic, or something else entirely?
- What effect will the example of China have on the decisions made in other places?
None of that can really be known in advance, but it can all be watched with interest.