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Posts Tagged ‘China’

The title of this post is the slogan of a campaign run by one of the speakers at the 3rd World Environment Conference – 2010: Year of China’s Green Economy. The conference was in Beijing last week and I was there to talk about how economic analysis can help solve environmental problems. Flying to Beijing for a 3 day conference and 3 day sightseeing trip was not low carbon of me but at least my flight emissions are offset as part of eftec’s annual carbon offsetting scheme. 

 The key topics covered at the conference included low-carbon technologies in every facet of the economy but in particular renewable energy. While the topics were of global scale (and hence the ‘world’ in the title of the conference), the delegates were mostly mayors from the provinces of China (remember how big China and its provinces are and you can gather the importance of having the mayors attend a conference on the environment), state owned enterprises and private companies from the emerging green industries.

China is a place of contradictions at a greater scale than most places and the conference was no exception. There were many encouraging speeches: not only talking about why a low carbon future for China is the only choice but also how such a future can be achieved.  Amongst many other actions, the following were most poignant:

–          Government leadership is needed

–          Systems (including stakeholder awareness) need to be improved

–          Experiences with different technologies and environmental policies from around the world and within  China need to be disseminated, and

–          International cooperation is crucial.

There were indeed many international speakers present, too. The speech by Mohamed Aslam. the Minister of Environment, Transport and Housing of the Maldives, was particularly inspiring. He re-stated Maldive’s target of becoming carbon neutral by 2020 and said they did not set this target because they have the technology, know-how and finance to achieve it but because it is the right thing to do. In addition, he stated that the announcement of this target had attracted many offers of help (technical and financial) that would not have come forward otherwise. Considering that sea level rise is already affecting the Maldives (to see a short BBC documentary – click here) and will threaten the country’s existence in future, it was not surprising to see their Minister at a conference in China – the highest carbon emitter.  But his speech was genuine and refreshing rather than overtly political and stale. 

Going back to the contradictions – some presentations were less progressive…like defending the use of coal and oil…because they are cheaper and because developed countries had ‘developed first and cleaned up later and China has the right to do so’. Why countries insist on repeating each other’s mistakes I don’t understand…worse still why they think they can continue to make decisions based on financial costs and benefits alone simply escapes me!

So, being the Daisy that I am, I said a few words on the subject…when compared on the basis of market price alone coal and oil are of course cheaper than renewable energy sources…first, the former two are generally subsidised while the latter are not. Secondly, the environmental costs of the fossil fuel options and the environmental benefit of the renewables (avoided cost of fossil fuels) are not reflected in prices. If they were, the balance is almost always likely to be changed in favour of the renewables.

Environmental costs are not trivial and no country can afford to postpone them – not because of some moral responsibility to future generations but because they are real, they occur now and people are paying for them. Those present only had to step outside the conference hall to see what I meant. Beijing is mostly covered in a thick smog – a mix of dust from the advancing Gobi desert and air pollution from coal-burning power stations, industries and of course the ever increasing traffic. The price of fuel may be cheap but the cost of the effects of this air pollution on human and animal health, agricultural productivity, forest growth and so on is expensive.

Air pollution is not the only problem, floods in southern China over the last month or so have also had very high costs in terms of human lives, damage repair and loss of environmental and built assets.

There is, however, good news too. At least in Beijing, they seem to have part of the waste management pretty much under control through the good old informal sector. All litter bins have a ‘recyclable’ and ‘other waste’ component and most bins are checked every ten minutes or so by (mostly old) men or women on bikes collecting in particular plastic bottles. I didn’t check how much they got paid but clearly the price is worth the hard work and the supply of material to be recycled is – unfortunately – unending with millions of people using plastic bottles at what seems like an increasing rate.  

To finish on a positive note – the Chinese leadership is incredibly fast and efficient once they make a decision. Conferences like this one are very useful in disseminating positive experiences from the world and from within China to assist the leadership in making good policy decisions. I look forward to seeing how this conference affects the environmental policy in China in the very near future.

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Today marks the first day of The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the 15th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 15), and the 5th meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 5).  Sixty heads of state including the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, US President Barack Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will be converging at Copenhagen this week in the hope of finalizing a follow-up framework to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a sustainable level according to the latest scientific reports.  

Of particular interest to many is what part China, a developing country but also the most populous nation on Earth (1.3 billion people), will play in these agreements.  China’s vast potential for future greenhouse gas emissions makes it one of the key players of any international agreement on climate change. 

Madam Fu Ying is the current Chinese ambassador to the UK and has served as China’s ambassador to Australia and the Philippines, as well as the Director General of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs within their Department of Asian Affairs.  Madam Fu Ying’s lecture on the 2nd of December titled “Climate Change and China” was suitably timed, taking place just 5 days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  The 400-seat lecture hall was filled to the brim with people hoping to learn more about China’s view on climate change mitigation and what steps they had taken or were planning to take, if any, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Madam Fu Ying’s lecture left us anything but disappointed, filling us in on the climate change effects that had already hit China (an average temperature rise of 1.1 degrees within the last five decades and more frequent extreme weather, including a severe drought in Northern China last Spring that affected 4 million people), what polices China had already implemented and how successful they were, and what their hopes were for the Climate Change talks in Copenhagen.

During this, Madam Fu Ying reminded us of China’s status as a developing country, with 10% of its population – that is 135 million people – living on a wage of under US$1 a day.  China’s GDP per capita is $3,000.  Madam Fu Ying pointed out to us that when the UK had a similar GDP per capita it was the year 1913.

Despite this, China has voluntarily amended their Law on Energy Saving and Law on Renewable Energy to reduce carbon intensity by 20% per unit of GDP.  Madam Fu Ying showed us a table of carbon intensity reduction for the top two and the bottom two provinces in China in 2008 for reaching their reduction goal.  Beijing soared ahead with an actual reduction of 7.36% and a target of 5%, while the bottom province, Xinjiang, had reached a reduction of 3.15% (with a target of 4%).  Madam Fu Ying followed this statistic up by saying that Xinjiang was “lagging far behind and looks unlikely to meet the target and would need a lot of help”.  To me, sitting in the audience, this was amazing.  While attempting to grow their economy and increase the welfare of their citizens, they had still managed to turn their attention to reducing their carbon intensity (so much so that their worse performing province still managed to achieve a reduction of 3.15%), something the UK certainly did not have to deal with in 1913.

The last two lines of the above paragraph was a running theme in my head throughout the lecture.  It is true that China has the world’s fastest growing economy.  But it is also true that millions in China still live without running water or electricity.  While citizens and leaders of developed countries wring their hands and talk about climate change mitigation damaging the growth of their economy, China and other developing countries have already put in place aggressive policies to mitigate the carbon emissions of their growing economy, which have included closing down coal powered stations, leading to the loss of jobs.  We should be humbled by their efforts and not derisive about their refusal to cut emissions in total despite their status as a developing country.

Madam Fu Ying finished her lecture with China’s hopes for a successful international agreement on climate change in Copenhagen: 

  1. Developed countries, both those who have signed and not signed the Kyoto protocol, should undertake to achieve substantial emission reduction targets for the second commitment period under the Kyoto protocol.
  2. Financial and technological support from developed countries should be provided to developing countries to aid them in their efforts to mitigate climate change.
  3. Developing countries should also adopt mitigation measures within the framework of sustainable development and with point 2 above. 

These points sound reasonable and achievable.  Let’s hope the delegates at Copenhagen will agree.

For more information about the lecture including a podcast, video, transcript, and slides from the talk, check out the LSE page.

For more information on COP 15, check out the COP 15 – Copenhagen Website

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