Monday, August 17, 2009
The study's authors were careful to note that their analysis is merely a recommendation, and has not been endorsed by policymakers. Yet China's government has signaled in recent weeks that their hard-line position on climate may be softening (see Green Leap Forward). Even if the study really is just a "research exercise," as its authors claim, it's one that marks a sea change in public thinking among the country's elite. Moreover, it's promising that the report stresses the ecological imperatives behind climate change- and the threat to China's development objectives- rather than the tired rhetoric of who's to blame for global aggregate emissions.
But what might it mean in practice? Even if China were to come out with a commitment to peak emissions by 2030, it doesn't mean we're out of the climate woods yet. China's much-touted energy efficiency targets and renewable energy scale-ups have been characterized by statistical fudging and fuzzy math (see, once again, Green Leap Forward). The country desperately needs a robust system for measuring and verifying emissions reductions. In particular, China lacks experience with regulatory frameworks for emissions reduction, as well as both the software and know-how to model emissions reductions- both clear imperatives for international cooperation.
And, of course, the study could simply be a trial balloon that gets shot down by China's higher-ups. But when you're dealing with things as foreboding as climate change, you've got to take comfort where you can, and China's "2050 China Energy and CO2 Emissions Report" at least represents an enlightened and sober view of what China must do to prevent catastrophic atmospheric disruption.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Second, South Korea became the first developing country to commit to greenhouse gas emissions caps by 2020, with significant implications for the Copenhagen agreement. I'll leave most commentary to Green Leap Forward, but suffice it to say South Korea's actions provide the first clear blueprint for how a developing country can formulate a sustainable, low-carbon development path. If it works, it will save the world. One can only hope that New Delhi and Beijing- and Pretoria, Brasilia, and Hanoi- are watching.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
In the past few weeks, of course, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited China, making a very favorable impression and launching important initiatives such as a Memorandum of Understanding on building energy efficiency and pledging $15 million for a joint US-China clean energy research center. Despite the progress, the prospects for significant Chinese concessions at Copenhagen look little better.
In fact, China has gone on something of a public relations blitz recently, highlighting its efforts to improve energy efficiency. The Shanghai Daily newspaper recently featured an article entitled "China fights climate change in its own way," which thoughtfully highlighted the Chinese Cabinet's decision to reduce energy use by encouraging its members to forgo wearing suits inside its meeting halls. China's Vice Premier, Li Keqiang, has also been making the rounds stumping China's energy efficiency and renewable energy policies. China Daily even featured an editorial that questioned the current focus on climate change in favor of population control- not an unreasonable argument, but the implication was that China is doing its part for the world's environment simply by limiting its population increase.
Of course, China has made impressive commitments to limiting the increase in its greenhouse gas emissions. Officials have said recently, for example, that China is on track to produce 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. But all of this is only a start. Despite the impressive numbers, there's a great deal of doubt if such policies will meaningfully reduce China's emissions. See, for example, this report indicating that China's much-touted wind farms have significantly lower capacity than intended, reducing the amount of electricity they can actually produce.
CGS has often observed the sea change in China's efforts to control its emissions over the past three or so years. There's been tremendous progress, for which China can rightly claim recognitions. But, as in the United States, where the landmark ACES legislation may be further eroded by special interests, it's doubtful whether China's actions will be enough to prevent dangerous climate change impacts. Let's hope there's something big coming in Copenhagen.
Friday, June 19, 2009
A few things of particular note:
First, many of those focusing on China's participation in global climate negotiations were pessimistic, primarily because there is a great deal of scepticism that the goals of fairness (i.e., accounting for the West's historic emissions) can be reconciled with the ecological imperative of preventing severe climate change. One political theorist (papers are currently not for attribution- sorry!) suggested that this situation should compel Western countries to take a hard line with China and other developing nations, essentially jettisoning the fairness consideration in favor of taking punitive measures, such as carbon tariffs, on imports from countries which refuse to participate in global efforts to reduce emissions.
Second, assessments of localized climate impacts appear to grow only more complex. One, particularly thorough study of climate change impacts on food security suggested that when all factors are considered, including socio-economic and water availability changes, food production is likely to remain largely unchanged under most IPCC climate scenarios. However, local impacts will be likely to vary tremendously, and expensive adaptation will likely be required to mitigate negative climate impacts on agriculture.
Third, more attention needs to be paid to changing consumption patterns in China, especially in the longer run. This will include buying fewer new-use products, low-emission buildings, hybrid-electric vehicles and bikes, and generally building more sustainable cities (in this vein, it's welcome news that China will build 19 urban railways by 2015). Such an emphasis on low-carbon lifestyles will be a big shift from the government's current, production-side focus on reducing energy and resource consumption (the Circular Economy concept). NGOs may therefore have to play a crucial role.
To CGS, the conference reinforced the point that climate negotiations with China will come down to two things: how clean technology is transferred to China, and how adaptation efforts are financed. The first part will likely require innovative licensing arrangements for technology developed in the US but produced in China, and Congress won't like that very much. The second goal will likely need to be focused on agriculture and rural development.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
With one exception, a really good, but unattributable quote: "We are mindful of the unforgiving imperative of the atmosphere." Well, CGS for one will sleep a little better knowing that.
Unfortunately, the rules of the game haven't changed: China still emphasizes the need for growth and development, while the US side slowly chips away at China's protests that it is a developing country, noting that China cannot claim to be as helpless in the face of climate change as, say, Haiti.
However, the roundtable did come closer to identifying a key negotiating front than previous sessions: technology cooperation. The Chinese side, possibly because it was dominated by representatives of the energy and engineering bureaucracy, constantly called for technology transfer. The US side forthrightly said that the United States has neither the monetary resources nor the political will to finance China's clean energy transformation: it can purchase the technology on the open market. What's needed, they said, is closer to an equitable (presumably meaning the US won't pay) "technology cooperation" arrangement.
A possible foundation for compromise emerged when Chinese representatives responded by saying that the US can do more to promote development of technologies that meet China's needs as a developing country, something most feasibly done through private-sector partnerships. Governments, meanwhile, can collaborate on enhancing China's capacity for clean technology deployment and implementation, especially in the area of measuring, verifying, and reporting emissions.
That might be something Congress can live with. But one big hurdle remains, and one recognized by both sides: intellectual property (IP). Both sides noted that there's a lot of misunderstanding on this issue, that China is actually better on some IP issues than it's given credit for, and that there's a whole range of technologies, mostly in energy efficiency, where IP issues are not a significant impediment.
So long and short, a focus of continued negotiations should be on capacity building in technology transfer, not simply discussion of the transfer and financing itself. To offer some CGS commentary, the Chinese side didn't seem to be budging much, but that's understandable: at a minimum, the US has to pass domestic cap and trade legislation before China can be expected to make any concessions. But you do have to take a step back and think: a bunch of earnest, capable people all speaking frankly about the importance of US-China climate cooperation for the future of the world. That would have been almost unimaginable a year ago.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
It's not too much hyperbole to go even further and say it will also be one of the most important, determining a great deal of the ecological fate of the world this century. Given this importance, what China says and does between Stern's visit and the negotiations at Copenhagen will also signal a great deal about what kind of country China really is, and what kind of power it aspires to become. If it offers sensible concessions and true partnership to the United States, we can be reassured that China wants to buy into a rules-based global order, in which there is a strong presumption of common interest. It would also speak well of China's technocratic regime (though it will be, and should be, forever in the shadow of Mao's totalitarianism and Tiannanmen). If, on the other hand, China sticks to its current talking points, which offer no concrete emissions reduction and continue to blame the West for climate change, we can all grow a lot more concerned about the future of international cooperation.
(See also Julian Wong's excellent summary of what China has done to date on climate change).
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Here's what CGS learned and concluded:
China and its neighboring countries are in for several acute water-related impacts as a result of climate change. Some areas of northwest China and eastern India will face severe irrigation challenges as water availability from Himalayan glacial meltwater decreases precipitously by the end of the century. Second, arid regions of China, especially the north, will become even drier. Third, south China and the Mekong delta will come under severe risk of catastrophic flooding. Essentially, most parts of China will have too little water when they need it (the dry season), and too much when they don't (the wet season).
China is fortunate in that it is wealthy enough that it can adapt to many of the worst consequences of these climactic changes. It can build dams and flood control infrastructure to store water and prevent destructive flooding, and it can invest in massive schemes like the South-North Water Transfer project to redress regional water shortages. Even if water shortages threaten crop production in China's breadbasket northern regions, China is wealthy enough that it can import much greater amounts of food.
What is clear is that water-related climate impacts will stress social and political institutions. Yes, China can invest in adaptation, but it will be expensive. Government agencies and the military will be harder pressed to develop response capabilities to water shortages. Meanwhile, water shortages threaten social stability in fragile areas of China, especially Xinjiang. Finally, water issues will become a more prominent feature of China's foreign relations, for which it is currently unprepared and inexperienced.
Climate change does not (obviously) threaten China's security in the same way that Soviet Russia once did, or that (according to the censors...) Twitter does today (it has been blocked for weeks). Rather, it will be an acute stress factor for social and political actors. Add in the many other such stressors (income inequality, economic hardship, political illiberalism, etc), and China will be compelled to pay more attention to climate impacts in the coming years.
Of course, and this is important on the eve of the US climate envoy's visit to China, China wouldn't have to worry so much if it commits to reduce its GHG emissions at Copenhagen this December. CGS believes the enduring value of seeing climate as a strategic issue for China is that it can help compel Beijing to see that climate change will stress China's social and political foundations, and is not simply an economic or ecological issue. Many of the government's great projects, such as the Western Development Project (Xibu da kaifa) will be greatly imperiled by climate impacts.
On an only partially related note:
A brief word on the climate negotiations: I've recently been in several fora where I've gotten into arguments about the necessity of China accepting firm commitments, and it's just this simple: China is too big for it to be an X factor in the global climate equation. Any formula the negotiators come up with in Copenhagen is meaningless unless China's contribution is codified.
CGS knows it's preaching to the choir here, but had to get that off its chest.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
First, a survey of the Act's most revolutionary and hard-hitting provisions. For starters, the Act requires that retail electricity providers obtain 25% of their energy from renewable sources, a far higher share than at present. It also envisions the creation of a "smart grid" to efficiently distribute electricity, which would represent the largest investment in America's energy infrastructure since rural electrification programs in the 1930s. A provision to enable federal agencies to negotiate purchases of renewable energy could potentially have far-reaching impacts; if, for example, the Department of Interior were to do so, it could stimulate rural renewable sources, since many Interior facilities are located in America's heartland.
By far the most eye-catching part of ACESA, however, is its cap and trade system:
The biggest implication of this provision is that, if adopted, there will be no major industrialized country without serious legislation in place to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This will inevitably shift the focus towards the world's emerging emissions superpowers, India and China.
The draft establishes a market-based program for reducing global warming pollution from electric utilities, oil companies, large industrial sources, and other covered entities that collectively are responsible for 85% of U.S. global warming emissions. Under this program, covered entities must have tradable federal permits, called “allowances,” for each ton of pollution emitted into the atmosphere. Entities that emit less than 25,000 tons per year of CO2 equivalent are not covered by this program. The program reduces the number of available allowances issued each year to ensure that aggregate emissions from the covered entities are reduced by 3% below 2005 levels in 2012, 20% below 2005 levels in 2020, 42% below 2005 levels in 2030, and 83% below 2005 levels in 2050.
Some smaller provisions, if taken to scale, may also have implications for China: ACESA suggests that substantial resources will be devoted to investing in carbon capture and storage (CCS), improving building and appliance energy efficiency, and greening the transport sector. All of these are areas in which American technical knowledge can be profitably employed in China. One provision though is certain to anger China: a stipulation that
To ensure that U.S. manufacturers are not put at a disadvantage relative to overseas competitors, the draft authorizes companies in certain industrial sectors to receive “rebates” to compensate for additional costs incurred under the program. Sectors that use large amounts of energy, and produce commodities that are traded globally, would be eligible for the rebates. If the President finds that the rebate provisions do not sufficiently correct competitive imbalances, the President is directed to establish a “border adjustment” program. Under that program, foreign manufacturers and importers would be required to pay for and hold special allowances to “cover” the carbon contained in U.S.-bound products.
Apart from these articles, though, are specific provisions that address international cooperation. At the international level, experts (and the Bali Roadmap) have long stressed addressing both mitigation and adaptation. ACESA has learned this lesson, and includes a section directing the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to create a National Climate Service, and each federal agency to conduct a review of climate adaptation issues. Even more importantly, however, it also "creates an International Climate Change Adaptation Program within USAID to provide U.S. assistance to the most vulnerable developing countries for adaptation to climate change."
Finally, and most significantly for China, ACESA also includes a provision
to provide U.S. assistance to encourage widespread deployment of clean technologies to developing countries. The draft specifies that only developing countries that have ratified an international treaty and undertaken nationally appropriate mitigation activities that achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions are eligible for funding.This language, with its stipulation that recipients of clean technology assistance ratify an emissions-mitigation treaty, seems aimed directly at India and China.
In sum, then, ACESA represents a great leap forward for the US on climate change issues. First, if adopted and implemented fully, it promises to shift the political burden for reducing emissions more resolutely on the developing world, within which China is the biggest target. The adaptation fund provision, if (and it's a big if) fully funded, could help the US to diplomatically isolate China and other big-country emitters from their allies in the more impoverished developing world, thereby increasing leverage for China and India to agree to concrete measures to reduce their emissions. Second, it includes several provisions that lay the groundwork for effective US-China cooperation on the development and deployment of clean technologies at a large scale.
Sadly, there are also significant pitfalls for ACESA acting as a catalyst for greater US-China climate cooperation. First, the "climate protectionist" provision of the bill will almost certainly raise China's ire, and will probably provoke retaliatory measures if it is passed by Congress. In the long run, such protectionism will damage technology cooperation efforts, to the benefit of no one. Second, and most damagingly, it looks like ACESA will require significant watering-down to secure passage through Congress. As The New York Times has reported, the bill faces significant opposition from conservative Democrats and Republicans, especially in these jobs-hemorrhaging times.
Nonetheless, ACESA demonstrates that the pendulum is swinging towards action on climate in America, and that means it will be a bigger issue for China, too. The future for US-China climate cooperation remains brighter than it has ever been. What remains unclear is if it will actually outshine the many dark clouds that the threat of climate change continue to cast over China, America, and the world at large.
Friday, May 8, 2009
China would do well to study it. The country may not have the Emirate's per-capita wealth (this courtesy of the country's oil reserves), but China does face a similar trend of urban population growth. Sustainable transport strategies, along with smart urban planning, will be crucial to easing (and greening) China's rapid transition to becoming an urban nation.
A recent article by Energy Foundation analyst Felix Creutzig in China Dialogue provides some indication of the imperative for smart growth. According to his analysis, the cost of congestion in the capital (Beijing has some 3.6 million cars) and air polluion amont to 7.5% of Beijing's GDP, excluding the high cost of vehicle emission contributions to climate change.
Creutzig offers a number of recommendations, including the building of satellite towns with transit-oriented development and the implementation of congestion pricing. Indeed, Beijing already has a few good examples of smart planning: the Xizhimen transport hub, for example, pretty successfully integrates long-distance rail, urban rail, and bus links with a large commercial complex and nearby residential areas.
Smart growth will not, of course, solve China's (or the world's) climate problems, but it makes sense for many other reasons, not the least of which is economic, as Creutzig shows. Moreover, smart growth maximizes co-benefits from reducing air pollution and congestion.
The principal impediment to promoting smart growth in China is the chaotic nature of local government. Beijing is in a better position than most, since it is a "municipality" that integrates local and provincial government. But for smart growth to take hold, the creation of multi-jurisditcional, regional planning organizations could be a big help.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The year 2009 may well be remembered as the Year of Climate Cooperation. Shortly after the New Year, the inauguration of Barack Obama heralded a new effort to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions, and to place special emphasis on working with China on climate issues. In a few more months, the world's nations will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, to try to forge a global agreement to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The tide of history is shifting towards a belated but crucial effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. China has a uniquely important opportunity to help shape this momentous new chapter in history, one that can be grasped by taking a new look at its national policy on climate change.
The Chinese government's 2008 "White Paper on China's Policies and Actions on Climate Change," together with the 2007 National Climate Change Program, outlines substantial efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. China has an opportunity to build on this effort by formulating a visionary policy that will enhance its national security, promote sustainable economic development and position it as a full partner in one of the most important global efforts of our era.
A visionary national climate change policy should be forward-thinking - too much time has been wasted in debates over the carbon that is "embedded" in China's exports and the responsibility of developed nations for the majority of historical global emissions.
These arguments are not wholly without merit but miss the point at a time when all nations, including China, must act quickly to build energy-efficient, low-carbon economies or risk runaway climate change.
A national climate change policy should also express China's willingness, in time, to commit to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, focusing initially on specific industrial sectors and, eventually, on economy-wide "caps" on total emissions. This step is necessary since battling climate change requires the decrease of absolute emissions of each nation, as opposed to merely decreasing energy consumption per unit of GDP, which is China's current policy.
The policy should use a mixture of incentives and mandates, to place China on the road to an energy transformation, away from conventional fossil-fuel power generation and towards the use of renewable energy sources and energy conservation measures.
China will benefit from a bold and visionary climate policy in several areas including enhanced security since the country will be in an increasingly precarious position as a result of changing climate, particularly in terms of water availability.
Most of the major river systems that feed and water China, India, and Southeast Asia depend on meltwater from the Himalayan region. Climate change is endangering this vital source of water for 60 percent of the human population. Himalayan glaciers, which provide some 70 percent of the flow of major Asian rivers, are melting at an extremely rapid rate; one study, published in the prestigious journal Nature, predicts that the Himalayan-Hindu Kush region will start to "run out of water" during the dry season. Besides disrupting agricultural activities and destabilizing massive and volatile populations, such a situation would imperil China's economic growth.
Additionally, the aggressive pursuit of a truly low carbon economy can help establish an era of unparalleled innovation and economic prosperity. A study by CERNA, for example, shows that countries that committed themselves to mandatory emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol experienced increased levels of innovation in green technologies over those that did not.
The depth and diversity of these economic development opportunities are enormous; China can create millions of urban, high-tech jobs in the manufacture, installation, operation and maintenance of renewable power systems. It can also revive rural economies through the development of sustainable agriculture practices. In all regions, huge amounts of money can be saved as citizens breathe cleaner air and drink cleaner water, reducing the incidence of some diseases.
Action on climate change is also an important sign of membership in the international community. Climate change has emerged as a global issue of paramount importance and by demonstrating that it is prepared to act boldly to combat climate change , China can help to reinforce its image as a responsible nation. Two Hunan University professors wrote in a recent China Daily editorial that "developing a low-carbon economic is a must as China continues to industrialize, not only for the nation's energy security but also as part of an urgent international responsibility to address global climate change."
By embracing this responsibility, China can gain recognition as a full partner in one of the most important global efforts in human history, while also ensuring it has a seat at the table as a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is forged.
The fundamental value in a bold, visionary national climate policy is that it builds the foundation for a sustainable future. China stands to gain a great deal from becoming a leader in green technologies, a resource-efficient economy, and a largely self-sufficient energy consumer. China's current policy on climate change is significant and a step in the right direction, but hopefully it represents merely a rough draft of a strategy equal to the challenge of climate change.
Scott Moore is a Fulbright Fellow with the Environmental Economics and Policy Study Group at Peking University. Julian Wong is an independent energy analyst, founder of the Beijing Energy Network, and author of the blog GreenLeapForward.com. The views expressed in the article are their own.
Friday, April 3, 2009
As a result, scholars and climate experts devote a lot of time to thinking about how to break the deadlock (see previous post). Hu Angang, an economist at Tsinghua University, published an essay recently on China Dialogue that presents an interesting take on the issue, and proposes a new emissions reduction trajectory for China, which will be crucial to the success of the overall global effort to reduce emissions (see Climate Progress).
Essentially, Hu proposes defining four categories for emissions-reduction purposes based on the Human Development Index (HDI): high, medium-high, medium-low, and low. The last two categories would have no responsibility to reduce emissions, while the medium-high group, of which China is a member, would have emissions-reductions targets calculated according to the gap in their HDI value from the high category (0.8 or above on the HDI). These distinctions would also be used to calculate financing of adaptation and technology transfer.
According to Hu's formula, the following roadmap should be set for China:
By 2020 carbon dioxide emissions should have peaked;By way of comparison, the US emitted about 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon in 2007 (see article).
By 2030 there should be annual emissions of less than 2.2 billion tonnes (a reduction to 1990 levels).
By 2050 there should be annual emissions of less than 1.1 billion tonnes (half of 1990 levels).
Promising as these targets are, what is more significant is Hu's phraseology in promoting them:
China’s international emissions reduction policy is not in step with the world. China is still considered a developing country, with no emissions reduction responsibilities, commitments or contributions toward meeting an international consensus.Yes, yes, yes! Hu's HDI approach is interesting, since it in theory ties mitigation burden to a broader range of factors than simply wealth; HDI is intended to measure institutional capacity and quality of life as well. But what's far more important is the premise of Hu's argument: that China's current climate change policy is out of step with the times, with its own national interest, and with reality.
A public commitment to reduce emissions, backed by central government targets, would be a massive spur to domestic emissions cuts. Participation in international climate-change negotiations and adopting climate-change regulations can provide the opportunity to implement of a beneficial energy and climate policy. More importantly, worsening climate change will increase the pressure to cut emissions. Failure to change energy and climate policy will mean choosing to fight over resources.
In several recent, previous posts, CGS has described a shift in tone on climate issues. Hu's essay is another indication that elite opinion in China may be shifting towards one that accepts more concrete responsibility to reduce emissions. Let's certainly hope that shift is in evidence at the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen this December.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Nonetheless, the bill represents another milestone in the long trek towards solving the climate problem. Charles McElwee at China Environmental Law Blog has a good post on the implications of the bill for US-China climate cooperation, technology transfer, and joint emissions reductions. The most significant impact of the legislation, though, is likely to be simply that the United States takes climate change seriously (finally!). It will soon become developing nations' turn to do so.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
This move comes as part of a broader effort by Beijing to improve environmental protection, especially as it concerns water pollution. In February, following the Jiangsu disaster, a senior MEP official acknowledged that despite several previous attempts to control pollution, "The general situation of environmental pollution does not allow us to be optimistic" (see Xinhua).
This month appears to have brought redoubled efforts to redress the situation. An MEP circular issued last week castigated local authorities for lax enforcement of water pollution laws, and to improve water quality monitoring (see Xinhua). Officials also announced today (March 30) that thirteen officials in Henan province were punished (one with a prison sentence) for failing to stop arsenic contamination on a stretch of the Dasha river, which news reports said was some 899 times healthy levels (see Xinhua).
Such efforts to strengthen the enforcement of environmental laws are necessary, but they illustrate an important failing in China's environmental policy: its obsession with the idea of a centralized "policy cudgel." What I mean by this is the insistence that the central government's policies would indeed improve China's environmental situation, if only local governments could be cowed into following orders (this appears to be a primary motivation behind recent MEP Regional Supervision Centers- more on this later). This approach is far too blunt an instrument, particularly when China's legal system doesn't bear anything like the enforcement capabilities wielded by, say, the US Environmental Protection Administration.
Instead of focusing on building a bigger and more potent cudgel, Beijing should focus on the longer-term tasks of enhancing citizen participation and NGO monitoring capabilities to aid in environmental enforcement, while also pursuing political and legal reforms that will make it easier to take polluters, and the corrupt officials that protect them, to court. Promotion of officials based on economic growth statistics should be ended. Moreover, less coercive, market-based approaches like Payment for Ecosystem Services should be pursued aggressively.
Robust environmental protection requires an expensive, resource- and bureaucracy-intensive edifice. But the public interests it protects- clean air, clean water, healthy people- are vital to a prosperous, sustainable society.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
One is disease: as many high-altitude and high-latitude areas warm, the viable ranges of pathogens and disease vectors (like mosquitoes) increase. Zhao Linnuo, Deputy-Director of the China Applied Meteorology Office, explained to Xinhua that atmospheric warming produces conditions favorable to the spread and propagation of insect-borne diseases. "If pathogens formerly confined to the south were to spread to the north," Zhao said, "diseases [formerly confined to the] wild may spread into inhabited areas; at the same time, the incidence of food-borne diseases is likely to increase as a result of warming." Climate change would also impact human health, Zhao noted, via secondary impacts on precipitation, wind velocity, and pollution concentrations (see Xinhua, in Chinese only).
Another expert, Jin Yinlong, explained that climate change will increase the incidence of both flooding and drought; in the former case, it would also lead to the spread of water-borne disease. "Climate change is likely to impact all people in different ways," Jin said.
In a separate interview, the Vice-Director of China's Meteorological Bureau warned that "from now on, extreme weather events will grow more frequent." Because China's population density and GDP total will also increase, Xu Xiaofeng noted, its vulnerability to extreme weather events, including flooding, hurricanes, etc., will become more acute. The article also noted that from 2001-2008, the cost of natural disasters is estimated to have accounted for some 2.8% of China's GDP (see China Economic Weekly, in Chinese only).
Perhaps most importantly, the officials also offered prescriptions on how to counter the threats posed by the spread of disease and extreme weather. The former article noted that atmospheric experts "call on businesses and the people at large to take steps to increase their awareness of climate change, safeguard the air we breathe, make a habit of saving energy to reduce emissions, sparely use wooden chopsticks and plastic bags, and rarely drive cars." Vice-Director Xu also noted that America has a robust disaster-warning system in place, one that China would do well to adopt.
These two articles nicely illustrate two of the key strategies for dealing with climate change: mitigation (as by driving fewer cars) and adaptation (warning people of natural disasters, which are likely to become more frequent). It's heartening to see so much talk of climate in the Chinese press; a few years ago, there was almost none. The high profile of expert discussion on climate also bodes well; it's much the same kind of citizen-science that has been so crucial in pushing the climate agenda forward in America.
But of course all of this means little unless China's elite agrees to do more to reduce its emissions. A recent editorial in China Daily nicely sums up the situation:
Word. It's long past time to bicker about things like the amount of carbon embedded in China's exports, or even the admittedly stronger argument about the West's high levels of historic emissions (see previous post). China must move beyond its fixation on its developing-country status, to the more pressing issue of how it will be affected- in terms of disease, weather, water, etc- if it does not act to reduce its own emissions, which account for so much of the global total. China Daily hits exactly the right note- we hope it's one China is willing to sing at Copenhagen come December.
With nobody but ourselves to blame for increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions, it is high time we did something to reduce the greenhouse emissions we discharge. The convening of the United Nations' conference on climate change at the end of last year was a sign that increasing numbers of countries and politicians have come to realize that climate change is something that nations must jointly deal with. We cannot afford to wait until it is too late - when the rising seas have submerged continents and the disappearance of glaciers has dried up our rivers. This annual day [World Meteorological Day] should be a reminder to all that we have an impact on world weather, and that global warming is a matter of life and death.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The devastating drought which hit northern China in recent months, affecting some 10.3 million hectares, was a potent reminder of the nation's precarious water situation. One farmer was quoted as saying, "I haven't seen such a severe drought in my life" (see Xinhua). Overpopulation, exacerbated by decades of disastrous, yield-maximizing agricultural policies, has devastated large portions of northern China, leaving it vulnerable to desertification, which climate change in turn is accelerating. Poor soil management results in extensive erosion; one recent report claimed that China loses 1 million mu (about 0.6 acres) of arable land annually to soil erosion (see Renmin Ribao, in Chinese only). In the meantime, climate models, while subject to significant uncertainty, suggest that seasonal runoff from the Himalayan plateau is likely to decrease precipitously in the coming years, affecting nearly all of China's major river systems (see previous post).
The gravity of the situation has not gone unnoticed by China's government. Its response to the drought was swift, issuing a "red alert" in some areas of the country, and providing emergency assistance. Meanwhile, experts issued a string of announcements focusing better on water management and efficiency. The President of the China Agricultural University emphasized water-saving irrigation techniques: "To deal with climate abnormalities, a growing water shortage, and the threat to food security, we must speed the use of farming and irrigation methods that save water" (see Xinhua). In early March, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission vowed to lower industrial water consumption by 5.6% and to increase the utilization of industrial wastewater to some 66% in 2009.
At the World Water Forum itself, China's Minister of Water Resources, Chen Lei, vowed to increase China's efforts to develop water resources for sustainable development. Chen highlighted ten areas where the government would ramp up water infrastructure investment:
"the reinforcement of risky reservoirs, rural drinking water security, water saving facility upgrading in large-scale irrigation areas, comprehensive management of major rivers and lakes, rehabilitation and upgrading of large-scale irrigation pumping stations, key water projects and water sources, water infrastructure construction in farmland, water and soil conservation, rural hydropower development and electrification, as well as capacity building" (see Xinhua).At the Forum, China also issued a joint statement with Japan and South Korea pledging cooperation, information sharing, and "trilateral cooperation" on water issues (see Xinhua). There are a great many areas of fruitful cooperation on water management issues, including eco-compensation and watershed management.
The attention being devoted to water issues is welcome, but it's likely to be insufficient, for three primary reasons. First, China's main approach to water resource management so far has been to conduct giant engineering projects, like the South-North Water Transfer effort to bring water from the south to the arid north. But engineering alone is little more than a stop-gap measure, which a recent reservoir project in Shanghai illustrates. The Shanghai region, being a low-lying coastal estuary, is vulnerable to salt tides, which contaminate freshwater supplies. As the sea level rises, salt tides are a growing concern in coastal areas around the world. The government's response to salt tides has been to construct the giant Qingcaosha reservoir, with a capacity of 7.2 million cubic meters. But as the Shanghai Daily article announcing the reservoir notes, "A new reservoir is by no means the long-term answer to the city's chronic lack of clean water." Silt from the Yangtze (another result of soil erosion), the article notes, is likely to clog the reservoir. Moreover, if runoff to the Yangtze declines as propitiously as predicted, Shanghai may have to resort to expensive desalinization to supply adequate freshwater. Despite the temptation to think so, humanity can't simply engineer itself out of water shortages.
Which leads to the second challenge confronting water management in China: the shamefully low price of water. Despite continual pledges to raise it (see China.org.cn), the Chinese government has found it difficult to make poor peasant farmers, who account for the majority of wasteful water use in China, pay significantly more for water. As a result, the price remains too low to encourage the most advanced water saving techniques. According to one water expert, "Although water-saving measures are used in northern China, many mature technologies aren't popular because of the high cost and low awareness of saving water" (see Xinhua). So the impasse continues: as long as the government remains undecided about how to encourage rural economic development without raising the price of water, China's agricultural sector will continue to waste large amounts of water.
This is a dangerous path to tread, since there is likely to be less and less of it, at least in northern China. Climate change means that droughts and flooding are both likely to become more severe, and while the distribution of precipitation will undoubtedly change in many regions, it's likely to be for the worse. Engineering projects, like reservoirs and desalinization plants, will help with adaptation and the stabilization of drinking water supplies, but ultimately such engineering will not compensate for the shifts in water availability. That requires tackling climate change. So far, as CGS has continually documented, China has taken a very conservative position on climate issues (see previous post).
However, as a recent China Daily editorial illustrates, China is re-evaluating its stance as the crucial Copenhagen climate conference approaches in December. Climate change, the editorial notes, "is hitting the Asian continent already." Repeating a standard Chinese government line, the editorial emphasizes that Asian nations should push for more money for adaptation, but then goes on to note that "The focus on adaptation...should not distract us from also paying attention to the other major building block, mitigation, and formulating a clear strategy on the issue." While the focus should remain on pushing developed nations to reduce emissions, the editorial also says that calls for "urging larger developing countries to take whatever actions they can to reduce theirs without hampering their development aspirations." Most importantly, the editorial hits the right note in concluding that the Copenhagen agreement "will determine the fate of the world, in particular Asia, for decades to come."
Water is a key environmental issue for China, Asia, and the world, making its management one of the foremost considerations for policymakers everywhere. This requires negotiating thorny issues of access, fighting important agricultural constituencies, and many other issues. But it also entails solving the climate problem- the over-arching, all-important wildcard on the fate of which all other environmental issues will ultimately rest.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
How to make international environmental cooperation work; Or, Report from EU Workshop on Carbon Capture and Sequestration Regulation
"to prepare the ground for developing large-scale facilities for zero emission electric power using coal as a feedstock. Options for hydrogen production as well as for production of synthetic fuels, and provisions for heat integration with surrounding industries will be investigated too. In this endeavour CO2 capture and permanent storage - including use for enhanced oil or gas recovery (EOR or EGR) - constitute an inherent and decisive prerequisite."
Because they focus on a key climate change mitigation technology- CCS- the STRACO2/COACH projects represent an important case study in international environmental cooperation, hence CGS's interest. Briefly, CCS is a technology that envisions capturing carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and "storing" it in impermeable geological formations, preventing its escape to the atmosphere. CCS is typically envisioned as a major "wedge" in reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, since it theoretically permits the use of abundant fossil fuels without contributing to the change in the planet's carbon balance. As one workshop speaker noted, many GHG reduction scenarios envision almost 30% of reductions coming from the large-scale deployment of CCS (see Rob Socolow and Steve Pacala's classic wedge paper on this). Problem is, it's far from a commercially-viable technology, hence the importance of the workshop. Deployment of CCS entails overcoming a number of challenges, including finding suitable geologic formations and developing an adequate regulatory framework for storing the carbon.
The STRACO2/COACH project is wide-ranging, including carbon storage site qualification and certification and financing. A particularly interesting feature of the STRACO2 project was the use of questionnaires to survey the CCS field in China, and which provide interesting insights into the prospects for China. Some 60 forms with questions on policy and finance, technology outlook, etc., were sent to a variety of environmental, energy, research, and consultancy firms in China, with 35 responses. These indicated that 43% of respondents see CCS as an "extremely important" technology for combatting climate change, while an additional 57% ranked it as "important." Respondents listed (in ranked order) high cost, unproven technology, underdeveloped law and policy, and underdeveloped technology as the most important barriers to CCS commercialization in China. Large majorities of respondents also reported that developed nations for pay for the development of CCS projects before commercialization, and that emissions trading offers the best prospect for long-term CCS financing. Notably, a significant majority also indicated that EOR technology, which involves injecting CO2 into oil wells as oil is withdrawn, represents the best storage option. Finally, respondents listed safety and responsibility as the most important considerations for developing a CCS regulatory regime in China.
The workshop also revealed a number of more general considerations and points of interest. There is a significant degree of suspicion over whether carbon can be safely stored underground, and whether "leakage" of carbon dioxide may pose a health risk to surrounding communities. China's geological storage potential also appears to be less favorable than in other countries, calling the widespread deployment of CCS into question. Several gaps were assessed in China's CCS capabilities, particularly in modelling technologies. The question of financing is also thorny; while most Chinese respondents indicated that developed countries should pay for the development of CCS technology, it's unclear how this might occur. Several experts, for example, spoke against inclusion of CCS in the Clean Development Mechanism, an important means of expanding clean technology in China. Perhaps most notably, one workshop speaker assessed the future of CCS as "uncertain," stating that its capabilities are "often assumed, not assessed."
In addition, the STRACO2/COACH project points out several significant issues for international clean technology cooperation. First is the need for robust stakeholder consultation: many in China remain suspicious of CCS. Second, governments will have to engage in significant discussion over intellectual property issues, and ensure that broader industrial and science/technology policy is aligned with clean technology cooperation. Much more attention will also have to be given to the details of financing and incentivization for clean technology.
Finally, the workshop highlighted the utility of person-to-person exchange in enhancing clean technology cooperation. Debbi Seligsohn of the World Resources Institute described a program that gathered an interdisciplinary team of experts from China and the US to explore the various issues involved in CCS deployment, and then organized a US study tour for participants, to be followed soon by a parallel China tour. By linking the people working on the ground in China with their counterparts in the US, the program helped to highlight important issues and challenges in CCS deployment, and stands a good chance of catalyzing long-term international partnerships.
In sum, then, the workshop illustrated several important lessons for international environmental cooperation. First, as China, America, the EU, and other nations struggle to ramp up clean technology deployment, such expert exchange programs will need to become a more common feature of the international landscape. Second, economists and policymakers should prioritize the issues of stakeholder consultation, financing, and intellectual property. CGS has been blessed to witness a sea change in the prospects for international environmental cooperation- but the hard work is yet to come.
The delegate, also the Vice-President of Anhui University, Wu Cunmei, noted that it is impossible to prevent contaminated water from flowing through watersheds. The national government should, Wu said, quickly establish a dispute-resolution and compensation mechanism for transboundary water pollution (see China Environment Report, in Chinese only).
As Wu noted, regions near the headwaters of river systems often garner economic benefits by polluting watersheds for downstream users, who must bear the costs themselves. This kind of "local protectionism," (地方保护主义) Wu said, damages the whole national system for preventing water pollution, making it an imperative to develop new mechanisms for transboundary dispute resolution and compensation.
None of this is really news, but it's heartening to hear a delegate to one of China's important "two meetings" (两会) speak so forcefully about environmental protection, and to single out watersheds for the development of an eco-compensation framework. Many experts agree that eco-compensation is particularly suitable for use in watersheds, where the benefits of clean water are clear for both upstream and downstream users (see previous post). Providing local governments with a means to "sue" other jurisdictions might also provide a potent secondary-enforcement mechanism, by deterring areas that may be tempted to adopt lax enforcement.
Nonetheless, creating a robust compensation and dispute-resolution system will be thorny. As long as local officials are rewarded chiefly for effecting economic growth, there will be strong incentives to "pass the cost along" by allowing industry to pollute with minimal enforcement and mitigation (see previous post). Moreover, a compensation regime should be carefully designed to encourage watershed management, not just to compensate downstream users for pollution. It's difficult to include the benefits of, for example, preserving forest cover near river system headwaters in any compensation regime.
Here's an opportunity for an enterprising NGO (or even friendly foreign government?) to step in and offer to provide expertise to the Chinese government in constructing a durable watershed pollution compensation and dispute resolution mechanism. As water scarcity increases and the pollution problem becomes more ingrained, China's leadership will surely be grateful for all the help they can get.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told the NPC that China will continue its efforts to increase energy efficiency, thereby decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, Wen said, ""We will implement energy-conserving measures for power generators, boilers, automobiles, air-conditioners and lighting products" (see Xinhua). The official English-language news article covering Wen's speech also carried quotations from several government officials vowing that environmental protection efforts will continue despite the economic crisis.
A China Daily editorial painted a similarly robust picture of China's efforts to reduce emissions, gushing that
Reducing carbon emissions by weaning industries off oil will not only "green the globe" but also spur growth, spark an employment boom and help combat climate change. And China is best poised to not only effect the new deal but also to reap the benefits of it.
The editorial even gave a nod to the positive atmosphere surrounding US-China climate cooperation by claiming that "As US President Barack Obama's administration pushes for an economy that provides both economic and environmental security, China can ride and contribute to the potential lush wave of inventions and initiatives." This kind of perspective is, of course, what CGS has always pushed for.
One more positive piece of news comes from a member of China's People's Political Consultative Committee, Zhang Guobao. Zhang, noting that Obama has devoted a large portion of America's economic stimulus package to developing new energy sources, called for China should do the same. "If we continue not to take new energy seriously," Zhang warned, "I predict that in another ten years we will be in the same situation as Japan" when it comes to that country's dependency on imported energy (see Renmin Ribao, in Chinese only).
On the other side of the coin, a recent editorial in China Daily exemplifies the old "don't blame China" school of thought when it comes to climate issues. Entitled "Don't blame China for the world's eco-woes," the editorial complained that
Critics still blame China as it builds new cities with modern homes, running water, sewage systems, transport infrastructure, schools and hospitals, just as their countries did. They blame China as it serves the needs of hundreds of millions of farmers moving from the land to the cities in the biggest urbanization program in human history. No nation has ever had to do this before, and the challenges are highly complicated.
There's some truth to this complaint (see previous post), but the real tragedy is that anyone, either in China or abroad, still thinks of the climate issue as a blame game. We're all responsible for changing the planet's carbon balance (though admittedly to differing degrees), and we'll all bear the consequences. The fact is, times have changed and nobody, in China, the United States, or elsewhere, can build new cities without making them sustainable.
Nonetheless, this kind of retrograde thinking appears to be winning out when it comes to China's stance on climate. The leadership appears to be consumed with concerns over jobs, stability, and restive minorities. When it comes to the low-hanging fruit and the "general principle" of climate sustainability, Beijing appears to be committed. But when it comes to making hard decisions, and paying a price, the message appears much more mixed.
Once again, it seems to CGS that foreign leadership will be crucial. The pieces cited above all reference Washington's actions in pushing green stimulus. If America can figure out how to drive economic growth with climate-sustainable features, you can bet that there will be plenty of receptive ears at next year's NPC.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
This week's China Daily includes a number of articles devoted to environmental issues, including one entitled "Innovation needed in alternative energy field," and another noting that "Sino-US talks turning to action" on climate change. The former article editorialized that "developing a low-carbon economic is a must as China continues to industrialize, not only for the nation's energy security, but also as part of an urgent international responsibility to address global climate change." This language, from two professors of public administration at Hunan University, is a noticeable shift from the standard government position that tackling climate change should be a developed-nation task. The latter article, depicting joint US-China efforts to improve energy efficiency, emphasized the co-benefits that could result from greater collaboration on energy matters. In general, the message seemed to be that environmental sustainability must remain a central goal of government policy, and that China should see action on environmental issues as part of its responsibilities as an emerging global power.
Sadly, this welcome news did not seem to be reflected where the rubber meets the road. According to China Environmental Law Blog and Caijing, the percentage of China's economic stimulus package to be devoted to environmental efforts is set to decrease. The amount of stimulus money devoted to "sustainable environment" will decline by over 120 billion RMB, with most of that amount being redirected to social welfare spending.
It's understandable to redirect stimulus money to ease the economic pain being faced by so many laid-off workers in China (and indeed, around the world). But this "readjustment" indicates just how difficult it will be for leaders around the world to implement green stimulus packages. As is so often the case, short-term economic considerations and long-term environmental sustainability stand at political odds.
Nonetheless, international coordination and consultation on implementing green stimulus could help governments keep their stimulus packages relatively green. Because initiatives to create green jobs and expand clean energy have never been attempted at such large scales, sharing best practices is a natural way for governments to enhance international financial and environmental cooperation (see previous post).
Here's to hoping Beijing, Washington, and governments around the world can their acts together and push green stimulus packages even as legislators push narrow self-interest.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Momentum on US-China climate cooperation builds; Tsinghua holds "Overcoming Obstacles to US-China Cooperation on Climate Change" Seminar
Dr. Lieberthal mainly elaborated on one of the report's main findings, that climate cooperation should be seen as central to the US-China relationship. Secretary Clinton, Lieberthal noted, raised the climate issue in almost every meeting she had during her visit to Beijing. Washington should sustain this emphasis, Lieberthal continued, and see bilateral climate cooperation as the motor for global action. US-China climate cooperation should in turn be part of a shift in the bilateral relationship which views China as a strategic partner on a range of global issues, as opposed to merely regional ones like North Korea.
Lieberthal was also emphatic that Chinese leaders should understand that their willingness to offer concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly impacts Washington's ability to do the same; the chief opposition argument to US action is that it will make no difference unless China takes similar steps. Such political arguments also obscure real advantages in strengthening US-China climate collaboration. Lieberthal cited in particular the relative advantages of using China for clean technology demonstration projects: in America, a carbon capture and sequestration plant requires a 6-year permitting process; in China, the time period is less than 2 years.
The reactions of Chinese panelists, including former People's Congress leader Cheng Siwei and Tsinghua professor Hu Angang, broadly fit under the "cautious optimism" paradigm (see previous post). Cheng agreed that trust and dialogue is essential, but went on to reiterate the familar talking points regarding historical emissions, China's developing country status, and the "embedded carbon" in making exports for the West (this is clearly a spurious argument; see China Environmental Law on this).
Hu was a bit bolder, noting that "If the US does not succeed [in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions], neither will China." Hu also called climate change an integral consideration for 21-st century economic development policy, and called the creation of a green economy an opportunity for China to "leapfrog" the most carbon-intensive stages of economic growth. The US and China have shared dreams, said Hu, including a "green dream." Perhaps most consequentially, Hu argued that China should see action on climate change as part of its responsibility as a global power and leader in the world.
Such positivity was broadly, if more cautiously, echoed across the Chinese bureaucracy. The deputy chief of China's National Energy Administration told a US-China forum on energy efficiency that "The two countries could further cooperate on a wide range of areas in the development of economic and energy sectors against the background of economic globalization" (see Xinhua). China Daily issued a sunny report on the Tsinghua seminar, before concluding with a cautious quotation from Cheng: "Dialogues on climate change are in the interest of both China and the US, but each side should work out a plan to combat climate change according to different national conditions."
Meanwhile, China's National Statistics Bureau announced that the nation's energy intensity fell 4.59% in 2008, slightly higher than predicted (see Xinhua). While this is a step forward, the number more than anything else indicates the scale of the task confronting US-China climate cooperation. China Environmental Law has an excellent post on this, so CGS will do no more than to conclude by saying we must hope that the Hu-Lieberthal view of climate cooperation as a strategic and central issue is sustained over time. It really is nothing less than a test of both nation's ability to be responsible partners in the international community- in America's case, after eight years of reckless unilateralism, and in China's case, as part of coming to terms with becoming an economic giant.