As Asia's emerging economies prepare to prosper in a future that limits carbon emissions, a new report says that China now earns as much from selling solar panels as it does from shoes.
AAP reports that Japan, China and South Korea took out three of the top five spots on the Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index, released on Tuesday as part of the Climate Institute's report on global climate action.
France leads the way, largely on the back of its low-emission nuclear energy sector, followed by Japan, China, South Korea and Great Britain.
Australia, though making slight improvements, languishes in 17th place and has been overtaken by Indonesia in its readiness for a low-carbon future.
The data is from 2010 and doesn't include the impact of the federal government's clean energy laws like the carbon price, but does include significant world events like the global recession.
The head of the Climate Institute, John Connor, says as other nations put constraints on carbon and pursue economic gains with less pollution, Australia may be left behind if it opts out of real action.
"We could become stranded trying to sell something that is no longer of interest," he told AAP.
"If it's not seen to be doing its fair share, it could suffer both diplomatically and economically."
He said that investment in clean energy, one measure of low-carbon preparedness, had stalled in Australia because of industry uncertain about the future of the Renewable Energy Target.
Given its sheer size and recent impressive growth, China is often mentioned as one of the main contributors to future climate change. For example, the nation is now commissioning two new coal-fired power plants per week and still isn’t managing to meet energy demand.
But, as Forbes points out, to see China as just a climate change problem is too simplistic. They are commissioning the power stations but, at the same time, are also implementing some impressive climate action measures.
The majority of the world’s low-cost solar cells are manufactured in China and the country has managed to reduce the cost of their production.
Also, the Chinese installed 43% of total global capacity wind additions in 2011 and are aiming to increase their own solar energy usage from about 12 GW of installed capacity at the end of 2012 to a goal of 35 GW by 2015.
There are a number of reasons for this performance. Firstly, the pollution problems in major Chinese cities such as Beijing are legendary and there for all to see.
Also, as a still-developing nation, China does not have a large amount of established infrastructure. Unlike the west, they can factor in climate change and get their development right the first time around.
As a ‘communist’ country with a centralized planning approach and little room for dissent, China can implement large scale projects quickly. Unlike in Australia, climate sceptics receive little air time.
But China doesn’t see this as a purely domestic exercise. It is moving ahead and establishing smart grid capabilities that can be exported to the rest of the world.