BEIJING, Dec. 9, 2009 — -- For China, the path to a low-carbon economy starts from a chicken farm on the outskirts of Beijing.
The first thing that strikes a visitor to this poultry farm is the smell. The strong odor of chicken manure permeates the air and brings tears to one's eyes.
Billed by state media as an ecological farm, it was first set up nine years ago by a private Chinese agribusiness firm to raise chickens and supply Chinese consumers with organic eggs.
With the use of imported technology, this pioneering eco-farm now turns chicken poop into biogas and electricity and plays a role in China's effort to reduce its carbon emissions. In its own way, this farm is part of China's search for a model of sustainable agriculture with clean energy.
This place is certainly not one's idea of an ordinary rural farm. With 3 million chickens housed in modern facilities, this poultry occupies an area of 124 acres and provides over 70 percent of the capital's supply of organic eggs.
It also turns out 200 tons of chicken manure every day, which is converted into 20,000 cubic meters of biogas and 40,000 kilowatt hours of electricity -- enough to meet the daily energy needs of 5,000 households.
The 300 families in nearby Shuiyu village use the biogas supplied free of charge by the farm for their cooking and heating. "I save energy and money, I use the bio fuel for cooking," Chen Youhua, a village resident told ABC News. She said she also uses leftover waste from the farm to fertilize the fruits and vegetables she grows.
By using biogas to generate electricity for its own needs, the eco-farm is able to reduce its use of coal and cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 95,000 tons a year.
With its combination of organic farming and clean energy, this chicken farm has now become a success story in China, attracting up to 30 groups a month from different parts of the country that want to study its eco-business model.
Built with funding from Chinese investors as well as from international bodies such as the Global Environment Fund and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, this eco-farm is the only one of its kind in the country. But there is now a plan to set up another one in Anhui province in south China.
A Step Toward Slowing Down Carbon Emissions
This Beijing farm's contribution could be dismissed as a drop in the ocean when it comes to reducing China's greenhouse gas emissions. But it also could also be viewed as a significant step in the right direction.
When China offered two weeks ago to cut its carbon intensity by 40-45 percent by 2020, it received a mixed reaction from the international community.
In a statement, Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Program, praised the announcement as "a very important and ambitious target…(that) injects a momentum in leading up to the Copenhagen summit."
Michael Levi of the Council of Foreign Relations wrote on his blog on the council's Web site, "These targets, while impressive in some meaningful ways, are disappointing. They reflect important measures taken in recent years, but they do not represent a deviation from existing Chinese policy."
Although China offered to reduce the growth of its carbon emissions, it did not propose a cut in its overall emissions by 2020. As China's science and technology minister recently told a British reporter, the country's greenhouse gases will continue to grow until 2030 or 2040 before they start to fall.
In an interview with ABC News, Li Junfeng, deputy director general in charge of energy research at China's top economic planning agency, explained the reason for China's position.
"China's rural areas are very poor. The country still needs to develop. They need energy and energy means carbon emissions."
"The only thing we can do," he said, "is to develop renewable energy and increase efficiency, to make the rate of emissions slower instead of faster."
"You couldn't make China stop using coal or stop using gas," Li pointed out. "It's hopeless. You can't push too fast."