On the road to Paris

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s state visit to the United States this month is ex­pected to in­clude fur­ther talks with US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on cli­mate change as the world’s two big­gest pol­lut­ing coun­tries pre­pare for a UN-led con­fer­ence in Paris in De

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

(in­tended na­tion­ally de­ter­mined con­tri­bu­tions). step,” said Joanna Lewis, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of science and tech­nol­ogy at Georgetown Univer­sity. “I think the pledges they re­ported are all ag­gres­sive and will be chal­leng­ing to meet each in their own way.”

Shuiyan Tang, pro­fes­sor of public ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Sol Price School of Public Pol­icy, said, “In a way, you might say that China has a stronger na­tional con­sen­sus about en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion — and even car­bon emis­sion — than in the US.

“In the US, there are a lot of con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans who al­most wouldn’t even want to ad­mit cli­mate change,” Tang said. “So in this sense, China is stronger in terms of com­ing to a na­tional con­sen­sus.”

The Paris dis­cus­sions will be par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant be­cause it will be the first time in 20 years that all the na­tions in the world will strive to reach a uni­ver­sal agree­ment on post-2020 cli­mate ac­tion.

Lead­ing up to the Paris talks are many other meet­ings that will in­clude dis­cus­sions be­tween heads of state and fi­nance min­is­ters. The most prom­i­nent one will be this month when heads of state at­tend the UN’s Gen­eral Assem­bly meet­ing where cli­mate change will be on the agenda. Xi will be at­tend­ing that meet­ing as part of his of­fi­cial state visit to the US.

“I think the aim of the New York sum­mit is not to get de­tailed ac­tions from each coun­try, but more to just se­cure a strong po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus (from them),” said Haib­ing Ma, China pro­gram man­ager at the Worldwatch In­sti­tute.

“It’s to fur­ther build up the mo­men­tum to the Paris agree­ment at the end of the year — it’s not to ne­go­ti­ate. They come here as a sym­bol and show the world they have this strong com­mit­ment and strong will­ing­ness to limit car­bon emis­sions in the fu­ture. I think it’s more like a uni­ver­sal po­lit­i­cal ges­ture than a de­tailed ac­tion plan,” he said.

“Any con­ver­sa­tions which can take place in ad­vance of the ac­tual talks is ex­tremely con­struc­tive, so that we can avoid any mis­un­der­stand­ings along the lines of what we may have ex­pe­ri­enced in Copenhagen,” she said. Lewis is re­fer­ring to the cli­mate talks in 2005 in the Euro­pean city that failed to yield more than two pages of the Copenhagen Ac­cord, where na­tions agreed to dis­cuss cli­mate again in the fu­ture and to reach a de­ci­sion then.

“My un­der­stand­ing is Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande and Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon will be hold­ing a lunch or din­ner with some of the lead­ers to talk about cli­mate, but I don’t think any­one ex­pects break­throughs in New York in Septem­ber on these is­sues,” Meyer said.

“But be­cause you have so many of these lead­ers in one place at one time, there’s an op­por­tu­nity for a lot of bi­lat­eral con­ver­sa­tions be­tween lead­ers that can help in­crease un­der­stand­ing. You’re more likely to get sig­nals com­ing out of the fi­nance min­is­ters in Oc­to­ber or the G20 meet­ing in Novem­ber, or some of the gath­er­ings af­ter New York, than you are at the Gen­eral Assem­bly,” he added.

In­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion

Dur­ing the Paris talks, the ex­perts ex­pect that each coun­try will lay out a de­tailed cli­mate plan and an es­ti­ma­tion of col­lec­tive global ef­forts. Worldwatch In­sti­tute’s Ma said that more in­for­ma­tion is ex­pected on the mea­sure­ment, re­port­ing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tems, which are sys­tems that coun­tries have in place to mon­i­tor and col­lect data on car­bon emis­sions.

In ad­di­tion, fur­ther talks are ex­pected on the Green Cli­mate Fund (GFC), a fund within the UNFCCC that col­lects and dis­trib­utes money from de­vel­oped economies to aid in cli­mate ef­forts of de­vel­op­ing economies.

“Among the cli­mate com­mu­nity here, we’re ex­pect­ing strong progress on the fi­nance side. We ex­pect the Green Cli­mate Fund to be fully op­er­a­tional with a large chunk of money that will be ready to be di­rected to coun­tries that most need it. We ex­pect to see a clearer text within the agree­ment on how the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries should be sup­ported from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” Ma said.

The Green Cli­mate Fund, which has head­quar­ters in In­cheon, South Korea, was es­tab­lished in 2010, with de­vel­oped coun­tries pledg­ing to raise $100 bil­lion ev­ery year by 2020 to help de­vel­op­ing coun­tries tackle cli­mate change prob­lems.

Some de­vel­op­ing economies, like In­dia, have said that they do not be­lieve the cur­rent amounts be­ing gen­er­ated for the fund are enough to fight cli­mate change.

The US has pledged it will con­trib­ute $3 bil­lion to the fund, and 10 other coun­tries have pledged $3 bil­lion to­ward the fund as well. The fund is ex­pected to be up and run­ning be­fore the Paris talks, ac­cord­ing to Ban.

“I think it’s too early to say for sure what will be achieved in Paris, but now that most of the ma­jor economies have ei­ther al­ready put forth their INDCs or sig­naled that they’re on the way, that we’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” said Georgetown’s Lewis.

Though China’s INDC pro­posal has been well-re­ceived, ex­perts agree that there are chal­lenges ahead.

China said it would peak emis­sions but did not pro­vide an ab­so­lute cap, and in­stead said it will aim to re­duce car­bon emis­sion per unit of GDP, mean­ing that the amount of emis­sions will fluc­tu­ate depend­ing on the econ­omy’s growth.

“From a global car­bon bud­get per­spec­tive, it’s hard to know how to score China’s com­mit­ment on that front, be­cause you don’t know how the econ­omy is go­ing to per­form over the next 15 years. You can make as­sump­tions based on cur­rent pro­jected growth rates, but of course there’s no guar­an­tee that those won’t be higher or lower,” Meyer said.

Price’s Tang said that it “makes sense” for a coun­try of China’s size to not fo­cus on ab­so­lute to­tal re­duc­tion. “You don’t want to im­pose an ab­so­lute amount of re­duc­tion — that is not vi­able, be­cause China sim­ply can­not do that,” he said.

The coun­try said in its INDC that by 2014, car­bon emis­sions per unit of GDP have al­ready been low­ered by 33.8 per­cent com­pared to 2005 lev­els.

US stan­dard

The US, on the other hand, has pro­posed ab­so­lute re­duc­tion in its INDC by 26 to 28 per­cent be­low 2005 lev­els by 2025.

“This is eas­ier for the US to do, be­cause it’s ex­pect­ing maybe 2 or 3 per­cent GDP growth for what­ever fore­see­able fu­ture. For them, you’re not talk­ing about a big in­crease in the to­tal econ­omy, year af­ter year, so it’s eas­ier for them to pledge to achieve to­tal re­duc­tion. As long as you in­crease ef­fi­ciency for each GDP out­put unit, you can easily achieve ab­so­lute re­duc­tion,” Tang said.

Another ob­sta­cle that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment may face is in the en­force­ment of cli­mate chan­g­ere­lated reg­u­la­tion, which is cur­rently set out by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment but is en­forced at the pro­vin­cial and city lev­els. Of­fi­cials who of­ten have to hit eco­nomic growth tar­gets as well as en­vi­ron­men­tal ones some­times pri­or­i­tize over cli­mate-re­lated ones.

“The most dif­fi­cult types of reg­u­la­tory en­force­ment are re­ally those that are re­ally lo­cal in na­ture. So one ex­am­ple is wa­ter pol­lu­tion. That’s very dif­fi­cult for the na­tional gov­ern­ment to deal with be­cause a lot of it is re­ally lo­cal. If you have one re­ally bad fac­tory in the lo­cal river sys­tem that is pol­lut­ing ev­ery­thing, then it’s very dif­fi­cult for Bei­jing to do any­thing.

In China, what­ever agree­ments the na­tional gov­ern­ment has, at the end of the day, im­ple­men­ta­tion is go­ing to be at the pro­vin­cial, county, city level,” said Tang, who stud­ies Chi­nese gov­er­nance.

Clay­ton Munnings, re­search as­so­ciate at Re­sources for the Fu­ture, said that China’s chal­lenge lies not nec­es­sar­ily in cre­at­ing poli­cies that will help it peak emis­sions, but en­sur­ing ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion and co­or­di­na­tion of poli­cies al­ready in place.

“Seven re­gions in China now op­er­ate cap and trade pilots with the in­ten­tion of in­form­ing the de­sign of a na­tional cap and trade pro­gram, slated to launch in 2016,” he told China Daily.

“While lo­cal pol­i­cy­mak­ers have done an im­pres­sive job in de­sign­ing and im­ple­ment­ing these re­gional cap and trade mar­kets in a re­mark­ably short amount of time, the pilots risk over­al­lo­ca­tion of al­lowances, suf­fer from low liq­uid­ity and have faced dif­fi­cul­ties in en­sur­ing com­pli­ance.”

A na­tional cap and trade pro­gram — a mar­ket-based ap­proach used to give eco­nomic in­cen­tives to those who achieve pol­lu­tant re­duc­tions — is needed at the na­tional level, Munnings said. Price’s Tang agreed that many of China’s cli­mate poli­cies need to be en­forced at the na­tional level, but the na­ture of the gov­ern­ing sys­tem makes that dif­fi­cult.

“It’s part of the Chi­nese gov­er­nance sys­tem. China’s sys­tem works where one level pushes another level — ul­ti­mately it’s not just en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, it’s al­most any pol­icy area, it’s the na­ture of the sys­tem where the cen­tral gov­ern­ment makes pol­icy, sets up tar­gets, and re­lies on pro­vin­cial, city and county town­ship gov­ern­ments to do the job,” he said.

Cli­mate ex­perts said that Xi’s state visit to the US will sig­nal US and China’s fur­ther bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion. It will be another chance for the two pres­i­dents to touch base head­ing into Paris and talk about how the two largest economies and two largest emit­ters can con­tinue to play a lead­er­ship role “as two of the most piv­otal coun­tries” mak­ing sure that the Paris talks reach a con­struc­tive out­come, Georgetown’s Lewis said.

Con­tact the writer at amyhe@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com


Peo­ple at­tend the UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence COP20, in Lima on Dec 8, 2014. The two-week long United Na­tions cli­mate sum­mit opened on Dec 1 in Lima, with ex­perts and an­a­lysts from around the world gath­er­ing to dis­cuss melt­ing glaciers and ex­treme weather pat­terns.

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