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Green Hops: It's Been a While! (And the next may be for a while)

Haven’t done a Green Hops for a long time, so there are lots of developments over the past weeks to catch up on!

Ten-Year New Energy Development Plan Closed to being Unveiled

State media is reporting that the National Energy Administration has finalized a 10-year new energy development plan that will require a cumulative investment of 5 trillion yuan  ($740 billion) to realize.  The plan, which is a strategy to help China realize its goals to achieve 15 percent of its primary energy mix from non-fossil sources and also to reduce its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, will be sent to the State Council for approval.

This plan seems to be the long-awaited new energy stimulus plan that GLF blogged about more than a year ago with baited breath, and in fact seems to provide almost double the investment dollars.  I would, however, strongly caution against assuming that this investment estimate will translate to direct funding by the central government.  Most likely, just like the economic stimulus package of 2008, this amount represents a total investment amount that will be provided by a combination of central, provincial and local governments in addition to the private sector (see my presentation at CSIS earlier this year).

That said, the details released so far are still impressive.  Important to note is the comprehensive breadth of sectors that fall under the “new energy” concept-its not just renewables such as wind, solar and biomass, but also energy efficiency, nuclear, smart (and strong) grid, transportation, unconventional natural gas, and more efficient use of fossil fuels.

A notable winner of this plan is natural gas, a hitherto minor energy resource for China (see picture).  The NEA estimates that natural gas will account for 8 percent of China’s energy needs by 2015 at 260 billion cubic meters, compared to just 4 percent of a smaller energy supply base today at around 100 bcm.  As the Financial Times blog recognizes, this strategic push for natural gas represents an economic opportunity for foreign firms with the right expertise.

New Energy Car Subsidies

In June, new subsidies for the private purchase of “new energy cars” came into effect ona pilot basis in five cities-Shanghai, Changchun, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Hefei.  The scheme provides up 3,000 yuan ($440) for fuel-efficient cars below 1.6 liters in engine capacity, and up to 50,000 yuan ($7,400) for plug-in hybrids and 60,000 yuan ($8,900) for pure electric vehicles for private consumers.  This new program is different from the 13-city new energy vehicle subsidy a few years ago which targeted public fleets (this will be expanded to 20 cities).

Beijing was a notable omission from this new 5-city pilot program, and according to my conversations Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jan.18.2010
In: energy efficiency, government, policy
1 comment

Assessing China's 11th Five-Year Plan Energy Conservation Programs

A look at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s analysis on the energy conservation programs in China’s current five-year plan.  For those of you in Beijing on Jan 20, you may listen to Dr. Mark Levine present these very findings at the Beijing Energy & Environment Roundtable (open free to public!). Details here.

Last month, I had the unique opportunity to gather with some of the top U.S-based thinkers on Chinese energy and climate policy.  Participants hailed from World Resources Institute’s ChinaFAQs group of experts.  Since it was a closed door session, I can’t spill everything that was discussed, but I did get permission to share what I thought was the most fascinating segment of the day’s programs.  Mark Levine and Lynn Price of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs’ China Energy Group, presented a fascinating array of findings on how China is progressing on its energy conservation goals in its current five-year plan (2006 to 2010).  The study, conducted by LBNL’s China Energy Group (in collaboration with Tsinghua University and McKinsey) analyzed China’s efforts in seven energy conservation programs–the Ten Key Projects, Enforcement of New Buildings Energy Standards, Building Retrofits, Top-1000 Energy-Consuming Enterprises, Structural Adjustments, Small Plant Closures, and Appliance Standards.  A recent article in Science Daily also covered LBNL’s work in this study.

Lynn explained in an exclusive interview with The Green Leap Forward, the motivations for conducting such a study:

LBNL’s China Energy Group focuses on end-use energy demand, so we are always interested to learn more about the details behind the overall numbers. During this Five-Year Plan, China has been reporting remarkable progress in reducing energy use per unit of economic growth, but the question in our minds was how were they achieving this? With this project, we set out to really understand the end-use policies and programs that China established and how they were or were not contributing to the overall reduction in energy intensity.

The following slides, which are informative and comprehensive, were what was used in Mark and Lynn’s presentation.  I highly recommend going through them in entirety.

LBNL’s findings is summed up best by Mark, lead author of the study and founder of the China Energy Group, who told The Green Leap Forward , also in an exclusive interview: Read the full story

By Julian Wong Dec.8.2009
In: climate change, government, solar, uncategorized

China in Copenhagen Day 2: Danish Distraction; Su Wei Gets Tough on the Developed World

This guest post is by Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran, both graduate students at Yale University reporting live from Copenhagen exclusively for The Green Leap Forward.

The China Information and Communication Center (中国新闻与交流中心) held an unpublicized press briefing featuring Su Wei (pictured center of panel), China’s lead negotiator and Director-General of the NDRC’s Department of Climate Change.  While mainly consisting of reporters, the event was open to anyone – well, just about any one of 50 people with their ear to the ground who managed to squeeze in early before crowds more were turned away.  We were two of the lucky few who successfully navigated to the quiet back corner of the Bella Center, near the Chinese delegation’s offices, where the briefing took place.  The briefing also came after China and the G-77 delegations canceled their press conferences this afternoon, only to restage them later in the day, supposedly in response to some controversy over leaked Danish draft text.  But more on this later.

Mr. Su was completely unabashed when it came to his comments regarding developed country commitments.  Targeted amongst his criticisms were the European Union, Japan, and the United States.

  • During the European Union’s briefing earlier today, representatives compared China’s carbon intensity target to commitments by the European Union, suggesting that China’s target isn’t strong enough.  Mr. Su said that if the E.U. wants to make any comparisons, it should compare the E.U.’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol with their actual performance to date.  Those are fighting words.  He also said that China’s carbon intensity target is completely incomparable with total emissions reductions and that it’s foolish to compare China’s recently announced target with reductions required from developed countries.  After citing numbers that made it appear that the E.U. was not substantively racheting up their emission reductions for the second Kyoto commitment period, Mr. Su asked the audience whether we thought their commitments were truly “ambitious, meaningful, and substantive,” allowing the translator to take a break and making his point clear in plain English.
  • In response to a question about Japan’s commitments and whether they were doing enough in terms of financing, transfer of know-how and technology, Mr. Su lauded their promise to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020 and the positive progress they’ve made thus far. However, even the Japanese shouldn’t feel self-satisfied, as the premise for their 25 percent reductions is based on the U.S. also making commitments in line with the Kyoto Protocol.  And, as we all know, the prospect of the U.S. signing on to Kyoto is as likely as a sunny hot day in Copenhagen during December (God willing we all do our jobs at COP-15).  Therefore, Mr. Su concluded that the Japanese proposal de facto has no meaning.
  • Moving on to the United States, Mr. Su said that Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. would commit to reducing emissions 17 percent by 2020 below 2005 levels was “not remarkable, not notable,” again using English to punctuate his statement.  Mr. Su noted that U.S. emissions grew 16 percent between 1990 and 2005.  He pointed out the obvious truth that the proposed 17 percent reduction (which is passing as slowly as chewing gum through the U.S. Senate’s backlogged intestinal tract) amounts to only a 1 percent reduction as far as the Kyoto Protocol is concerned.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Su harped back to the principle of we heard repeatedly from Mr. Su, historical emissions matter, as the cumulative emissions of the E.U. and U.S. are much larger than China’s.  From China’s perspective, the carbon intensity reductions they have put on the table are an offering where none is necessary.  Such an action represents their goodwill and a “responsible attitude,” according to Su.

A question was asked about if and when China would consider peaking its carbon emissions (see previou spost “Peaking Duck:Beijing’s growing appetite for climate action“)  Mr. Su basically reiterated how unfair he felt it was to talk about developing country peak emissions at this point and that developed countries should shoot for achieving their pick as soon as possible.  He also said because China was still industrializing and heavily reliant on coal and other fossil fuels, it would be difficult to predict a peak.

The briefing also came after China and the G-77 delegations canceled their press conferences this afternoon, reportedly due to panic onset when a Danish text was leaked that would supposedlyt give more power to developed countries. The Guardian provides a summary of some of the key tenets of this “secret draft agreement:”

In particular, it is understood to:

  • Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;
  • Divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called “the most vulnerable
  • Weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance;
  • Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.

(We have not yet verified how the Guardian got to these numbers, as the leaked Danish text does not make mention of specific quantities. The current disparity in per capita emissions between developing and developed countries is much larger than this, meaning it would take a lot for both developed and developing countries to reach these levels.  We hope to address this in a later post.)

Surprisingly, it seemed that third-party observers had more knowledge of the sensitive texts.  When asked what he thought about the Danish proposal to require developing countries to determine a peak year for collective emissions (Article 9), Mr. Su responded that he was unaware of the text and that discussions of peak emission years for developing countries was premature.  In the United States’ briefing for NGOs an hour later, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing also downplayed the significance of the Danish proposal, saying that there were multiple Danish texts circulating and that the hosts wouldn’t be doing their job without offering more food for fodder.  It seems to us that this may have been a strategic move on the part of Pershing and the U.S. to lessen some of the initial hysteria rippling through the developing country parties.  Or perhaps lead negotiators really were too busy hammering out texts behind closed doors that they didn’t have time to check their e-mail.

[Note by Julian:  It now seems that Guardian may have been reviewing what appears to be an early draft that has since undergone "extensive revisions" in consultation with both developed and developing countries, reveals ChinaDialogue.  The Danish Government itself is denying the existence of a “secret draft for a new Copenhagen Agreement” but rather “many working papers used for testing various positions.”  See also this analysis by my colleague as to how all this is "typical overblown COP drama."  Let's also not forget that the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) also have their own "secret text" outlining pretty tough negotation stances (see previous post "Green Hops: BASIC Instinct, New Energy Plans, Natural Gas Deals").]

By Julian Wong Sep.25.2009
In: climate change, government

China's Carbon Intensity Plans and its Impact on Climate Progress

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

By Julian Wong Aug.20.2009
In: climate change, coal, government

Peaking Duck: Beijing's growing appetite for climate action

A follow-up to my previous post (“China’s softens climate rhetoric-commits to emissions peak (again), shows flexibility on Western reductions“) on the day that the Climate Group released an important report on China’s low-carbon opportunityThis post was originally published here.

China’s climate change envoy, Yu Qingtai, made headlines when he declared in a news conference earlier this month that “there is no one in the world who is more keen than us to see China reach its emissions peak as early as possible.”

Now all eyes are focused on the United States and China—the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters—with just four months to go to the U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen, where nations will negotiate a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Attendees at the most recent round of U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany may have left the meetings with a pessimistic sense that we’re a long way off from a global agreement. But interesting developments are unfolding in China outside of these U.N. meetings that bring a more hopeful message.

China already committed in a declaration last month with 15 other large emitting countries at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Italy to peak global and national emissions “as soon as possible.” That provision lacks a precise timetable and is laden with the caveat that of the “overriding priorities of developing countries,” but it is the statement of intent that the Chinese are clearly taking seriously.

Then just last week, a panel of climate policy experts from various Chinese government think tanks, published an extensive 900-page report that has gained notable attention in both the Chinese and Western press for advocating the notion that China can feasibly aim to peak its carbon emissions by 2030. The report is advisory in nature and by no means represents official policy, but it is the latest in a series of overtures by prominent Chinese academicians to set emissions peaking pathways. Hu Angang, a public policy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a prominent policy adviser for the Chinese government, has also advocated for China to aim for peaking carbon emissions in 2030. He Jiankun, deputy head of the State Council’s Expert Panel on Climate Change Policy, has projected that China’s emissions are more likely to peak at 2035. Additionally, a different report released earlier this year by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, another prominent government think tank, called for peaking between Read the full story

By Julian Wong Aug.6.2009
In: government, uncategorized

Chinas softens climate rhetoriccommits to emissions peak (again), shows flexibility on Western reductions

Written with assistance from Austin Davis and posted originally on Climate Progress.

Multiple news outlets have been reporting that yesterday’s news conference with China’s top climate change ambassador, Yu Qingtai, marked a significant departure from China’s established attitudes toward climate change. He also expressed a degree flexibility regarding China’s previous demands that developed nations pledge to reduce their carbon emissions 40% by 2020 from 1990 levels at Copenhagen this December.

It’s true: Wednesday’s conference provided a more explicit explanation of China’s position on climate change than had been offered previously. Yu reaffirmed China’s commitment to eventually reducing its carbon emissions while giving more specific details as to China’s position on the Copenhagen talks.

Great quotes like “there is no one in the world who is more keen than us to see China reach its emissions peak as early as possible” may have caused a stir among the western media, but this is not really news.

Influential Chinese scholars have been pushing for a peaking pathway for some time now. Hu Angang, a public policy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a prominent policy adviser for the Chinese government, has advocated for China to aim for a peaking of carbon emissions in 2030, while Read the full story

Dr. Wang Tao Responds to Questions on Tyndall Centre Report

Last month, I reviewed the Tyndall Center report on China’s Energy Transition: Pathways for Low Carbon Development and expressed three specific concerns.  Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to exchange emails with Dr. Wang Tao (pictured right), one of the co-authors of the report.  He has taken time to address my questions and has graciously agreed to have his explanations posted here.

Here are the concerns I raised on my last post, rephrased for clarity, and Dr. Wang’s responses.

1.  In choosing a global carbon budget for the report’s scenario analysis, a target of 450 ppm of carbon dioxide, which translates to roughly 550 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent, is used.  Is 550ppm CO2e a safe target, especially considering what we know about negative feedback loops and runaway climate change?

No. As many already know, climate change is already happening and there have been many arguments about what is a relatively safe level of carbon concentration to avoid dangerous climate change impacts. The scientific consensus has not been reached; as I have witnessed myself in the Copenhagen climate science congress in March 2009, you can hear people talking about levels from as low as 300 ppm to as high as  550ppm, yet no one is be perfectly sure. I do recognize that the 550 ppm target that we choose  is at the upper end; this does not mean we accept this level as acceptable, but that is the only figure with wide scientific consensus in the IPCC AR4. I would like to reduce it to lower level if there is another widely accepted level. The report has shown that even with 550ppm CO2e it would be very difficult to reach and require significant courage from government to take radical changes soon. It is better to get them moving rather than scare them off at the first place, right? With the same methodology, you could always apply lower CO2 level if wanted, but the trajectories may look scarier. Our choice is rather a compromise between what is ideal and what is practical, as we said in the report. Read the full story

By Julian Wong May.4.2009
In: climate change, government

Tyndall Centre Climate Report: High Hopes for Low Carbon

A review of a study on low carbon development pathways for China by the Tyndall Centre.  One of its co-authors, Dr. Wang Tao, speaks at the Beijing Energy & Environment Roundtable (BEER) tomorrow (May 5, Tuesday).  Click here for more details.

A report by the Sussex Energy Group and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research entitled China’s Energy Transition: Pathways for Low Carbon Development set out four different scenarios for low-carbon development in China in an attempt to demonstrate how China’s economic development can be decoupled from carbon emissions growth–allowing its economy to expand by some 8 to 13 times while presumably stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.   The four scenarios are summarized in the table below:

Based on their scenario analysis, the authors draw the following key observations: Read the full story

Green Hops: Green People's Congress, Beijing Solar Thermal Plant, Forestry Initiatives

This edition of Green Hops is dedicated to Andrew Symon, a Singapore-based journalist specializing in energy and whom I have had the pleasure and honor of making an acquaintance of as a result of his writings at Asia Times Online.  He passed away unexpectedly on February 24, 2009.  Andrew’s generosity, sense of mission and powerful intellect will be sorely missed.

Energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) last year was reduced by a further 4.59%, bringing the three year total in energy efficiency gains in 2006 through 2008 to 10.08%.  This means that to reach its 20% energy intensity reduction target over the five year period for 2006 through 2010, it will have to reduce almost another 10% in energy intensity over 2005 levels.  Even if it seems difficult to achieve, such efforts much press on.  To sobering reality is that China’s annual greenhouse gas emissions surged 45% from 2002 to 2005 alone due to a combination of structural changes in industrial activities and increased consumption.  Half of that increase, apparently, was driven by manufactured exports. But the Chinese authorities say that exports in general are declining (25% year on year) and that the amount of “high-energy-consuming products” exported in 2008 declined 16.2%  from the previous year. Read the full story

By Julian Wong Feb.13.2009
In: biofuels, government, green hops, hydro, nuclear, oil, policy, smart grid, solar, wind
1 comment

Green Hops: Energy Law & Plan, Big 5 Subsidized, Installed Wind Doubles

Today’s Green Hops, focusing on energy supply, is a continuation of yesterday’s.

Two important macro-policy documents are in the works.  CELB reports that the comprehensive Energy Law may be passed in 2010 (though this Chinese clipping suggests it may be as early as this year), and that the 12th Five-Year Plan for Energy (2011-2015) is in draft mode.  Nuclear, wind and hydro seem to bet the alternative energy sources of choice.  This alternative energy review by China Daily, in its “Mixed Energy Forecast” seems to similarly suggest the short shrift given to solar.  How unimaginative.   I’m sure the solar industry would have something to say about that.  In fact, it has (see solar section below).

Before turning to the knitty-gritty of the green and brown energy news developments over the past weeks, I would like to highlight a sage piece of advice from CELB, that recognizes that China is still in many ways, but especially economic development, very much a “Rule by Plan” rather than “Rule of Law” society: Read the full story