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The "how much" and "how to" of China's goal to reduce carbon intensity

In September, President Hu Jintao announced that China will seek to reduce its carbon emissions per unit of GDP, or carbon intensity, by a “noticeable margin” (see previous post “China’s Carbon Intensity Plans and its Impacts on Climate Progress“).  The world has been waiting with bated breath to learn just how noticeable this margin will be.  The China Council of International Cooperation on Environment and Development, or CCICED, an advisory body of 200 international experts formed in 1992 that provides environmental policy advice to the Chinese central government, are the first to formerly propose some numbers.

According to China Daily, CCICED recommends in a report that  China should aim to reduce its carbon intensity by 4 to 5 percent per year, year-on-year, until 2050.  There is no mention in the China Daily article about when CCICED thinks these reductions should commence, what the assumptions to GDP growth are till 2050, nor what levels of carbon emissions will result by 2050 if such measures were taken.  What is known is if such measures are taken, presumably deduced from modeling performed by CCICED, is that:

  • Carbon intensity will fall by 85 to 90 percent by 2050 compared to a 2005 baseline
  • Energy intensity, or amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP, will need to be reduced between 75 and 85 percent by 2050
  • The manufacturing sector in proportion to the national economy will shrink from 50 percent to 30 percent by 2050
  • More than half of new energy demand should be met by low-carbon energy by 2030, and all new energy should be low-carbon by 2050
  • Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, will need to be an important technology promoted by 2030. [This last point on CCS is consistent with the scenarios study conducted by the Tyndall Center (see previous post "Tyndall Centre Climate Report:  High Hopes for Low Carbon"), and we'll  have more on CCS in a later post]

How much will all this cost?  Probably far less than the cost of inaction.  A recent report by WWF, for instance, describes the devastating climate impacts to China’s Yangtze River, the lifeblood of Southern China’s economy and food supplies.

What kinds of policies are necessary to meet this 2050 goal? Read the full story

By Julian Wong Sep.30.2009
In: uncategorized

A Birthday Wishlist: China's Climate Challenge and the Next 60 Years

Originally published by the Center for American Progress and China Dialogue.

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

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

By Julian Wong Aug.4.2009
In: climate change, uncategorized

South Korea, a developing country, embraces 2020 emissions cap, with important implications for a global deal in Copenhagen

Today we hop over the waters to talk about Korea, but with important implications for China’s negotiating position in Copenhagen.  Its been a busy news day in Korea, both North AND South, but it is the latter where I focus our discussions today in a post was originally published on Climate Progress with the assistance of Dan Sanchez.

South Korea may not be outdoing the United States’ clean energy commitments yet, but it has just announced intentions to adopt a 2020 emissions cap, the first developing (non-Annex I) country to do so. Reuters explains:

The government said it would choose a target this year from three options: an 8 percent increase from 2005 levels by 2020, unchanged from 2005, or 4 percent below 2005. Its emissions doubled from 1990 to 2005, the fastest growth in the OECD….  Officials said they marked a big commitment to head off an estimated 30 percent rise in emissions that would result if no action were taken.

One might argue if South Korea is really a developing country—it is considered one under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted in 1992, but was in 1996 subsequently admitted to the OECD, which is usually thought of as a club of the rich countries.

One might also question the choice of a 2005 baseline rather than 1990, which all the targets in the Kyoto Protocol are keyed to.  The reasoning behind the choice of a 2005 baseline is obvious from the quote above, which explains that South Korea’s emissions have risen steeply in the years since 1990.  The result is that none of the three choices will result in reductions from a 1990 level.

Nevertheless, the symbolic significance of the announcement cannot be overstated–South Korea is the first non-Annex I country to indicate that it will adopt quantifiable emissions targets for 2020.  While the article notes that South Korea’s commitment could be “voluntary,” the 2020 timeframe suggests that the country may be open to Read the full story

By Julian Wong Jul.17.2009
In: uncategorized

And we're back...Seizing the clean energy economic opportunity

Apologies for the prolonged absence!  It’s gotten a little busy at work, but you will be pleased to know that much of that has been related to working on China energy issues.  We owe you a backlog of updates on China’s green scene and MUCH has happened…but still no new energy stimulus package yet.   In the next few days, some backlogged editions of Green Hops will be unleashed.  But to tide you over the next days here are some relevant items that relate to what I have been up to:

1.  Yesterday (July 16), I testified at the U.S. Senate Committee for Environment and Public Works in a hearing entitled “Ensuring and Enhancing U.S. Competiveness in Moving Towards a Clean Energy Economy.”  I was tasked to share with the committee what China is doing to embrace the clean energy economic opportunity.  I did so by relating what China is doing in (i) energy efficiency; (ii) renewable energy, especially wind and solar; (iii) and manufacturing of low-carbon technologies, using Baoding city of Hebei province as an example.  The underlying message is that China is moving aggressively in these areas, in large part as a strategy to enhance economic competitiveness, and that the U.S. had better embrace comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation to stimulate investements in low-carbon sectors or risk being left behind.

You may read my oral testimony here, formal written submission to the committee, and a three-hour video of the full proceedings.  Coincidentally, an article in the Washington Post that very morning spoke to how Asian countries are leading the global clean tech race.

2.  I was interviewed by Public Radio International, also to talk about what China is doing in the energy front, and how to reconcile the green and brown faces of today’s China.  Read the article or listen to the podcast here.

3.  I am guest on The World’s interactive science forum to answer questions on China’s energy and environmental issues.  Pose a question on the forum, and I will get back to you! 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

China's Climate Progress by the Numbers

A common refrain from climate action naysayers is that, “China is building two coal-fired power plants a week!” They insist that the United States should wait until this major emitter takes on binding commitments to climate change mitigation before it decides to adopt global warming pollution reduction policies in the American Climate and Energy Security Act (H.R. 2454). They further claim that if such a bill became law, the United States would be transferring its jobs to countries such as China and India that are doing nothing to curb emissions. But that thinking is exactly wrong.

Critics fairly point to the fact that 80 percent of China’s power is derived from dirty coal, and that China recently surpassed the United States as the word’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Yet China’s per capita emissions remain a fifth that of the United States, and its historical cumulative per capita emissions from 1960 to 2005 are less than one-tenth that of the United States.

Still, the Chinese have recognized that it’s climate inaction—not climate legislation—that will lead to its own economic undoing. As the U.S. Congress debates the merits of enacting renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, China has already forged ahead with building its own low-carbon economy, laying the foundation for clean-energy jobs and innovation.

China ranked second in the world in 2007 in terms of the absolute dollar amount invested in renewable energy, according to the Climate Group. It spent $12 billion, which put it just behind Germany’s $14 billion. These investments have placed China among the world leaders in solar, wind, electric vehicle, rail, and grid technologies. And now approximately 9 percent of China’s $586 billion economic stimulus package will go toward sustainable development (excluding rail and grid) projects.

China is expected to unveil in the coming weeks another extensive and unprecedented stimulus package—reported to be in the range of $440 billion to $660 billion—dedicated solely to new energy development over the next decade, including generous investments in wind, solar, and hydropower. If those expectations are fulfilled, China could emerge as the unquestioned global leader in clean-energy production, significantly increasing its chances to wean its energy appetite off coal, and at the same time ushering in an era of sustainable economic growth by exporting these clean-energy technologies to the world.

The bottom line: China is not there yet, but it is beginning to transition to a clean-energy economy through a wide range of actions. The United States should recognize China’s efforts and encourage China to expand upon them. We have sketched this claim before, but let’s run though the numbers in more detail. Read the full story

Green Hops: 3 trillion reasons to stop what you are doing now and do a little dance

Top Stories: Cash for renewables; China may raise fuel economy standards; Pledges smart grid by 2020; Beijing water price hike

I’m not one for sensationalism, but my gosh, when multiple news sources are reporting that the much anticipated renewable energy stimulus package will is going to be for the massive amount of 3 trillion yuan ($440 billion), its hard to resist.  The amount is startling, considering that is is three quarters the size the economy-wide stimulus plan announced last November.  No details have been given about the allocation of these funds; the news reports are saying a focus on wind, given the recent tripling of wind energy targets in 2020 to 20 GW installed capacity.

But given the size of the funds, one must really wonder if this is going to be a big handout to the nuclear industry, which itself benefited from a national target boost to 70 GW installed capacity by 2020, or big hydro for that matter.  Unlike the November stimulus package, which was meant to be a short term boost for industry, this renewable energy package seems to be more far-sighted money, meant to be deployed over time from now till 2020.  $440 billion is still quite a large sum considering that National Energy Bureau division chief Liang Zhiping was recently quoted as saying that a sum of $190 billion was needed to realize China’s 2020 renewable energy targets, but more consistent than the forecast by New Energy Finance last year that $398 billion (or $268 billion excluding big hydro) is needed.  Then again, we also don’t to what extent nuclear, big hydro and grid infrastructure figure into the $440 billion on $190 billion numbers (they do not in NEF’s $268 billion forecast), so its all very hard to say.

Another Chinese report suggests that the package will actually be 4.5 trillion yuan ($660 billion) and tied to Read the full story

By Julian Wong May.28.2009
In: climate change, uncategorized
1 comment

China and U.S. Not As Far Apart As Each Other Thinks (and a rant against nonsense journalism)

The use of “carbon cap equivalents” provides a more accurate accounting of what countries are doing to combat climate change, and could be just the tool that helps countries forge a new climate agreement this December in Copenhagen.

In this momentous 100th post on The Green Leap Forward, I would like to share with readers an article that my new colleagues and I penned, entitled Counting the Real Progress on Climate Action, released just this morning (Thursday May 27, Washington, D.C. time).  It was picked up hours later by the New York Times in a story highlighting U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Beijing.  Unfortunately, the New York Times gets it wrong and corrupts the meaning of our article when it says:

A bill being considered by the House [of Representatives in the U.S. Congress]  would compel the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and to 83 percent below by 2050. But that plan is well below the opening demand by Chinese leaders, who want developed nations to reduce 2020 emissions by 40 percent from 1995 levels [see this article on China's demands], and it falls short of commitments by the European Union as well.

American officials have already rejected the Chinese proposal as unattainable. The Center for American Progress, a Democratic-leaning research organization, said in a report published Wednesday that the House legislation was unlikely to win enough Chinese support for the two nations to present a united front at the Copenhagen talks in December.

In short, the Michael Wines, the NYT reporter (who does not specialize in environmental reporting, I might underscore) makes it sound as if we are saying that an impasse in Copenhagen is inevitable because the expectations of both sides are too far off.  If one actually reads our article, it is clear that our central message is, in fact, the opposite: Read the full story

By Julian Wong May.26.2009
In: policy, solar, uncategorized
1 comment

Much Ado About Solar II

…and we’re back!   Apologies of the prolonged dormancy, but yours truly has been busy lately transitioning to his new day job.  But no time to waste!   Let’s pick things up really quickly with some solar updates.

First, my solar policy paper, Getting out of the Shade: Solar Energy as  National Security Energy, which we summarized before in a previous post, has now been published in three parts on China Dialogue.  While the content remains the same, what’s new is that an Chinese version is now available.

中国太阳能产业转向国内市场 (1)
中国太阳能产业转向国内市场 (2): 重新定义国家安全
中国太阳能产业转向国内市场 (3):发现太阳能发电的瓶颈所在

There is an extra bit of text that is new in this edition that is worth noting:


[Encouragingly, since the first publication of this article, China has begun its journey out of the shade: China's Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has launched a solar roofs programme to subsidise qualifying PV systems at 20 yuan (US$3) per watt, while some provinces, particularly Jiangsu, are poised to offer significant financial incentives to increase local capacity in PV manufacturing and deployment.]

And what a surge in domestic solar projects there has been in response!  Many of the new projects were tracked on a previous post Much Ado About Solar, and so we have a continuation of more solar activity announced since that post: Read the full story