Cli­mate takes cen­ter stage in Paris

China pre­pares to help lead the way to a low-car­bon fu­ture as lead­ers gather for UN en­vi­ron­men­tal sum­mit, Fu Jing and Lan Lan re­port.

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

Paris, reel­ing from re­cent terror at­tacks, is set to be the scene of an­other event of world­wide note as the United Na­tions cli­mate change sum­mit is sched­uled from Nov 30 to Dec 11.

More than 138 world lead­ers, in­clud­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his US coun­ter­part, Barack Obama, have con­firmed their at­ten­dance at the event, which will fo­cus on how the world can re­duce car­bon emis­sions to bat­tle cli­mate change.

China watch­ers say that, in Paris, Xi is ex­pected to go be­yond the de­tailed car­bonre­duc­tion tar­gets al­ready promised by China.

He is ex­pected to fo­cus on China’s proac­tive role in meet­ing global chal­lenges and in­creas­ing its say in global gov­er­nance, and will talk about the trans­for­ma­tion of China’s de­vel­op­ment pat­tern and the evo­lu­tion of its think­ing on eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion.

In its pledge to the United Na­tions in the sum­mer, China said it would cut green­house gas emis­sions by 60 to 65 per­cent per GDP unit by 2030 from the lev­els in 2005. The coun­try also said it would peak emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide by 2030 or be­fore.

China will en­sure the ful­fill­ment of its pledges for cut­ting emis­sions re­gard­less of the out­come of the Paris cli­mate sum­mit, ac­cord­ing to Xie Zhen­hua, China’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive on cli­mate change is­sues.

Any agree­ment reached in Paris will be judged on whether it is “eq­ui­table, ef­fec­tive and win-win”, ac­cord­ing to Zou Ji, a pro­fes­sor at the Na­tional Cen­ter for Cli­mate Change Strat­egy and In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion, a Beijing-based think tank.

“But for China, tran­si­tion­ing to a low-car­bon econ­omy and reach­ing its goals is a must — there is no Plan B,” Zou said.

Of­fi­cials say they will make ef­forts to­ward an ear­lier peak by im­prov­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and ad­just­ing China’s en­ergy struc­ture.

China al­ready has dwarfed all other coun­tries in terms of clean en­ergy in­stal­la­tions. It ac­counts for 25 per­cent of the world’s to­tal in­stalled ca­pac­ity of re­new­able en­ergy in the past five years and its rapid de­vel­op­ment of wind and so­lar has greatly re­duced costs.

Goals sub­mit­ted to the UN also in­clude boost­ing the share of non-fos­sil fu­els in the pri­mary en­ergy mix to 20 per­cent by 2030. “Such a size and pace for re­new­able en­ergy growth is un­prece­dented glob­ally,” said He Jiankun, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Low Car­bon Econ­omy at Ts­inghua Univer­sity.

China’s re­new­able en­ergy tar­get for 2030 would be equiv­a­lent to in­stalling 10 1-mil­lion-kilo­watt nu­clear power units an­nu­ally or 10 5-megawatt wind tur­bines each day be­tween 2020 and 2030, He said.

“China faces a tougher chal­lenge than the de­vel­oped coun­tries to achieve the se­ries of tar­gets be­cause it is in a dif­fer­ent stage of de­vel­op­ment,” He said.

Most de­vel­oped coun­tries main­tained an eco­nomic growth rate of be­tween 2 and 3 per­cent when their emis­sions peaked. The US, for ex­am­ple, reached its car­bon emis­sions peak in 2005.

Since China is ex­pected to main­tain a growth rate of 4 to 5 per­cent near 2030, it will have to keep its car­bon emis­sions per unit of GDP lower than what the de­vel­oped coun­tries did to reach their peak.

If China can es­cape the old model of pol­lut­ing first and then clean­ing later, and de­cou­ple eco­nomic growth from en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, it will pro­vide a model for other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, said He.

The year 2014 saw the first de­cline in China’s coal out­put af­ter 15 years of con­sec­u­tive growth. In­dus­tries such as ce­ment, power, steel and chem­i­cals are fac­ing over­ca­pac­ity and more strin­gent en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

Things are chang­ing as the econ­omy en­tered the “new nor­mal”, which means slower but more sus­tain­able growth. China re­ported a 5.7 per­cent year on year de­cline in coal consumption in the first nine months of this year, af­ter a 2.9 per­cent de­cline in 2014.

Tim Buck­ley, di­rec­tor of en­ergy fi­nance stud­ies with the In­sti­tute for En­ergy Eco­nomics and Fi­nan­cial Anal­y­sis, said coal pro­duc­tion and coal im­ports in China peaked in 2013 and the rate of de­cline in both pro­duc­tion and im­ports ac­cel­er­ated through­out 2014 and 2015.

Chi­nese lead­ers have stressed that cut­ting emis­sions “is not at oth­ers’ re­quest but on our own ini­tia­tive” and the pro­mo­tion of clean en­ergy and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency has been high­lighted in the pro­pos­als for the 13th FiveYear Plan (2016-20).

Achim Steiner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme, said it is a “fas­ci­nat­ing mo­ment in history” that has seen China in­cor­po­rate eco-civ­i­liza­tion into its fu­ture de­vel­op­ment path.

The coun­try’s cu­mu­la­tive in­vest­ment in pro­mot­ing non-fos­sil fu­els and de­vel­op­ing low-car­bon tech­nolo­gies is likely to ex­ceed 40 tril­lion yuan ($6.2 tril­lion) be­tween 2015 and 2030, es­ti­mates the Na­tional Cen­ter for Cli­mate Change Strat­egy and In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion, a lead­ing think tank.

It is ex­pected to cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties in eco­log­i­cal restora­tion and re­new­able en­ergy tech­nol­ogy, both for do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies.

Janos Pasztor, United Na­tions’ as­sis­tant sec­re­tarygen­eral on cli­mate change, said em­pha­sis on the con­cept of an eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion re­flects a shift in the de­vel­op­ment poli­cies of China.

“And it is of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 2030 Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Agenda and global ef­forts to ad­dress cli­mate change,” said Pasztor.

“This shift is es­sen­tial be­cause tak­ing timely and univer­sal ac­tion on cli­mate change is the way the world can achieve sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals to end poverty, (and) build stronger economies and safer, health­ier so­ci­eties every­where.”

China’s re­cent de­vel­op­ment path­way will help it tackle in­creas­ing pres­sure from re­source consumption and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, he said.

Sa­man­tha Smith, leader of the World Wildlife Fund Global Cli­mate and En­ergy Ini­tia­tive, said al­though there are some eco­nomic chal­lenges, China’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to achieve a green and low-car­bon tran­si­tion re­mains strong.

She said the eco­nomic growth rate of the world’s largest de­vel­op­ing coun­try is lower, but it is still quite high among all ma­jor coun­tries.

“At the same time, en­ergy and car­bon in­ten­sity dropped sig­nif­i­cantly and the in­crease of renewables in China’s pri­mary en­ergy mix is quite re­mark­able,” Smith said.

One of ev­ery four kilo­watt hours of elec­tric­ity in China comes from low car­bon sources, mostly renewables. “Ac­cord­ing to th­ese num­bers, China is fully ex­pected to over-de­liver its tar­gets in the 12th Five-Year plan and is right on track for its pre-2020 pledge,” she said.

“This is a very en­cour­ag­ing sign that a low car­bon tran­si­tion won’t com­pro­mise but rather strength­ens so­cial and eco­nomic progress.”

WWF strongly sup­ports the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion strat­egy, which is in line with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s global mis­sion to en­sure a healthy, eq­ui­table and sus­tain­able fu­ture for peo­ple and the planet, Smith said.

The WWF be­lieves that the re­cently adopted UN sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals and their tar­gets pro­vide a strate­gic frame­work for build­ing an eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion, and the 13th Five Year Plan would be an op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the goals, she said.

To­gether with evo­lu­tion of think­ing at top lev­els, Pasztor said the pub­lic aware­ness in China about the need to ad­dress en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased over the past two decades.

“The pub­lic is more en­gaged on th­ese is­sues than ever be­fore. Peo­ple understand that pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment has direct ben­e­fits for health and qual­ity of life. This grow­ing pub­lic con­cern has led the gov­ern­ment to take more am­bi­tious poli­cies and mea­sures,” said Pasztor.

The Chi­nese pub­lic is aware of China’s en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis, ac­cord­ing to Is­abel Hil­ton, a Lon­don-based jour­nal­ist and founder of China Di­a­logue, an in­de­pen­dent, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that fo­cuses on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Pew Global Opin­ion Sur­vey, how­ever, pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of cli­mate change and low-car­bon de­vel­op­ment is still rel­a­tively low in China, and cli­mate change is of­ten con­fused with air pol­lu­tion, she noted.

But ac­cord­ing to a re­port pre­vi­ously re­leased by Ox­fam and Ren­min Univer­sity of China, the cli­mate aware­ness of Chi­nese is even higher than that of Amer­i­cans.

Smith of the WWF said, in re­cent years, mo­men­tum has been driven by wide­spread pub­lic con­cerns over air qual­ity, lo­cal air pol­lu­tion and global cli­mate change.

They are is­sues with the same ori­gin, which is China’s reliance on coal-fired power gen­er­a­tion. Cli­mate change also makes tiny, dan­ger­ous PM 2.5 par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion even more dif­fi­cult to dif­fuse in some re­gions in China and af­fects the air qual­ity in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

“To solve en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, in­clud­ing cli­mate change, we need pub­lic sup­port,” said Smith. “And we be­lieve that by unit­ing peo­ple, we can change cli­mate change and move to a low-car­bon fu­ture.”

Gao Shuang con­trib­uted to this story.

Con­tact the writ­ers at fu­jing@ chi­ and lan­lan@chi­


Blades are ready to be in­stalled on wind tur­bines at a power plant in Hami pre­fec­ture, Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.


So­lar power is used to boil wa­ter in Lhasa, cap­i­tal of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

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