Monday, August 17, 2009

China's emissions to peak in 2030! (?)

CGS woke up today to a Reuters report that some of China's leading climate experts urge the adoption of policies to make the county's carbon dioxide emissions growth to slow by 2020, and to peak by 2030. The suggestion, made in a report signed by many heavy-weight researchers and policy analysts, urges the government to consider a variety of policies, including a carbon tax and even a domestic cap and trade system, to effectively cap emissions by 2030. Perhaps most notably, the report stresses the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions within the next few decades in order to avoid catastrophic ecological damage.

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

Progress towards Cophenhagen

Two quick but important notes on progress towards the negotiations at Copenhagen. First, there's been increased talk of the climate issue becoming the organizing principle of US-China relations (see US Department of State briefing on the recent SED). While this growing importance has yet to produce substantive results, it's an astounding shift from US-China relations during most of the Bush years (asterisk: former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson gets credit for including some climate issues under the previous iteration of the SED), when energy and environment were scarcely mentioned. In any case, it's good news, since deployment of clean technology in China will be a decades-long task that will have to take place in the context of a robust US-China relationship.

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.