A mat­ter of de­grees


China Daily European Weekly - - Front Page - By FU JING and LAN LAN

Paris, still reel­ing from the re­cent terror at­tacks, is set to be the scene of an­other event of world­wide in­ter­est as the United Na­tions cli­mate change sum­mit is sched­uled from Nov 30 to Dec 11. By Nov 24, 147 state and gov­ern­ment 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 re­duces car­bon emis­sions as part of its fight against cli­mate change.

While world lead­ers are chal­lenged to join to­gether to fight ter­ror­ism, with at­tacks in Mali, Paris and Beirut lead­ing the news, they also are called upon to fight an­other ma­jor global threat.

Un­like at the Copen­hagen cli­mate sum­mit in 2009, global lead­ers are be­ing asked to bring their po­lit­i­cal will to bear at the be­gin­ning of the two-week talks to avoid their in­volve­ment in the tech­ni­cal de­tails at the fi­nal stage.

Ob­servers say Xi’s at­ten­dance is of great im­por­tance af­ter his sea­son of globe-hop­ping ap­pear­ances, which in­cluded weigh­ing in at the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York, the G20 lead­ers meet­ing in Tur­key and the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion meet­ing in the Philip­pines. Xi also has re­cently vis­ited Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don, and lead­ers of France and Ger­many have ex­changed ideas with him in Beijing. China’s pres­i­dent is fly­ing to Johannesburg, South Africa, to at­tend the Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion af­ter Paris.

China watch­ers say that in Paris, Xi is an­tic­i­pated to go be­yond the de­tailed car­bon re­duc­tion tar­gets al­ready promised by China. He also is ex­pected to fo­cus on China’s proac­tive role in meet­ing global chal­lenges, offering more prod­ucts and ideas, and in­creas­ing China’s say in global gov­er­nance. He also is ex­pected to talk about the trans­for­ma­tion of China’s de­vel­op­ment pat­tern, and the evo­lu­tion of its think­ing on eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion.

China’s com­mit­ments

In pledges sub­mit­ted to UN cli­mate au­thor­i­ties over the sum­mer, China said that, by 2030, it would cut green­house gas emis­sions by 60 to 65 per­cent per unit of GDP from the level in 2005. The coun­try also has said it will 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, speak­ing be­fore his de­par­ture for the Paris talks.

He says China hopes that the del­e­gates, from more than 190 coun­tries, will reach an “am­bi­tious, strong and legally bind­ing” agree­ment.

The tar­gets that China sub­mit­ted to the UN in June were based on two years of sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the coun­try will en­sure the ful­fill­ment of th­ese tar­gets no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult they may be, Xie says.

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 cre­ated af­ter the Copen­hagen sum­mit to sup­port China’s cli­mate talks.

“Of course, we hope the Paris meet­ing will gen­er­ate an out­come, and we will ac­tively con­trib­ute to that. But for China, tran­si­tion­ing to a low-car­bon econ­omy and reach­ing its goals is a must — there is no plan B,” Zou says.

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

China 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 power has greatly re­duced costs of re­new­able en­er­gies.

The pack­age of goals sub­mit­ted to the UN also in­cludes boost­ing the share of non­fos­sil fu­els in the pri­mary en­ergy mix to 20 per­cent by 2030, set­ting the tune for its en­ergy struc­ture tran­si­tion.

“Such a size and pace for re­new­able-en­ergy growth is un­prece­dented glob­ally,” says 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 ev­ery day be­tween 2020 and 2030, He says.

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

Most de­vel­oped coun­tries main­tained an eco­nomic growth rate of be­tween 2 and 3 per­cent when their emis­sions peaked. The United States, for ex­am­ple, reached its car­bon emis­sions peak in 2005, and Ja­pan in 2007.

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 emis­sions peak.

Con­flicts be­tween the econ­omy and the en­vi­ron­ment re­main for the coun­try, which en­com­passes about 21 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and has ex­pe­ri­enced rapid in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and ur­ban­iza­tion.

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, He says.

Last year 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. Slow­ing pro­duc­tion at ma­jor coal con­sumers has dragged down coal consumption.

China re­ported a 5.7 per­cent yearon-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 at the In­sti­tute for En­ergy Eco­nomics and Fi­nan­cial Anal­y­sis, says 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.

While a sin­gle year or two is not suf­fi­cient to pre­dict that China’s coal consumption will con­tinue to fall, coal use has en­tered a steady sta­tus and will be on track to fall af­ter 2020, says Ts­inghua’s He.

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 pro­pos­als for the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

Achim Steiner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme, says 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 non­fos­sil fu­els and de­vel­op­ing low-car­bon tech­nolo­gies is likely to ex­ceed 40 tril­lion yuan ($6.2 tril­lion; 5.9 tril­lion eu­ros) be­tween 2015 and 2030, es­ti­mates the Na­tional Cen­ter for Cli­mate Change Strat­egy and In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion, a think tank.

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

Be­yond num­bers

In fact, China has at­tached great im­por­tance in trans­form­ing its de­vel­op­ment pat­ters to shift away from en­ergy- and re­sources-in­ten­sive mod­els. Es­pe­cially since Pres­i­dent Xi


Tourists enjoy blue skies and flo­ral dis­plays in Tian’an­men Square, Beijing. China will en­sure the ful­fill­ment of its pledges for cut­ting emis­sions, of­fi­cials say.

Xie Zhen­hua, China’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive on cli­mate change is­sues

Janos Pasztor, United Na­tions’ as­sis­tant sec­re­tary-gen­eral on cli­mate change

Sa­man­tha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Cli­mate and En­ergy Ini­tia­tive

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