Friday, June 19, 2009

Report from "China and Global Climate Change" Conference at Lingnan University, Hong Kong

CGS has been in Hong Kong this week as a participant in the "China and Global Climate Change" conference at Lingnan University. The conference has been remarkable in the range of perspectives represented, including everything from psychology to meteorology to social theorists. As one of the few academic gatherings with a specific focus on China and climate change, CGS strongly recommends checking out the conference website for access to the proceedings.

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.

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