The clean-energy float at the 60th Anniversary celebrations on October 1st in Beijing. (Photo credit: Xinhua/Li Gang)
This week [October 1st] marks the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The first 30-year phase was one of revolution, marked by one bloody internal purge after another, but the next 30-year phase was one of pragmatism, which underpinned economic and social reform leading to unrivaled rates of economic growth.
China now finds itself at a crossroads. As the country struggles to come to terms with its imminent status as a global superpower, it is staring in the face of vast, systemic resource challenges. China faces a triple threat to its energy, water, and food security, and there is one common thread: climate change.
In the case of energy, an overexploitation of coal—and increasingly oil—to fuel its economic expansion is the root cause of rapid growth of greenhouse gas emissions. The resulting change in climate is in turn altering precipitation patterns, leading to flash floods in some areas but exacerbating droughts in large parts of others, an urgent predicament for a many land-locked regions that are already water-scarce. Such water scarcity, together with noxious acid rain caused by fossil fuel combustion, will in turn choke off agricultural productivity, threatening future food supplies.
This food-water-energy “trilemma” will threaten Read the full story
Updated Sep 30: Reactions from U.S. legislators and Chinese translation of main blog piece.
President Hu Jintao (pictured right) of China announced that China will build on existing domestic climate change policies as embodied in its National Climate Change Programme and current Five Year Plan to step up its efforts on energy efficiency, development of low-carbon energy such as renewables and nuclear, and increase of forestry cover. [For a transcript of President Hu's speech, click here]
Most noteworthy was president Hu’s introduction of a new goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product from 2005 levels by 2020 by a “notable margin.” No specific numbers were provided, but this should not be surprising as such a far-reaching national policy must undergo various necessary legislative steps before it can become domestically binding. However, China’s willingness to translate its existing domestic energy conservation goals, often discussed in terms of amount of energy consumed, into a metric that is consistent with the language of international climate policy, i.e. carbon emissions, is the clearest signal yet that China is willing to take on responsibilities that are commensurate with its resources and global emissions impact.
This policy has at least three important implications. First, it would undoubtedly set China on a path to slow down its carbon emissions growth. How quickly such a deceleration leads to a peaking of China’s total emissions depends on the specific carbon intensity targets, but senior Chinese officials have recently given public assurance of China’s desire to peak its emissions “as early as possible.”
Second, a shift of focus from energy intensity to carbon intensity will help accelerate China’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The current energy intensity standard does not distinguish between energy derived from high-carbon fossil fuels and low-carbon renewables or nuclear. By framing China’s efficiency goals in terms of carbon emissions, low-carbon sources of energy will be favoured. A carbon intensity policy would thus not only encourage more efficient use of fossil fuels, as the current energy intensity goal does, but also amplify China’s already ambitious targets on renewable energy deployment.
Third, the policy implicitly commits China to measure, report and verify (MRV) carbon emissions on an ongoing basis. It remains to be seen whether Read the full story