Saturday, May 8, 2010

China Climate Change Policy: Deliberate and Wily

I went to that China Climate Change Policy talk at MIT on Friday. My Chinese isn't good enough to understand everything, but anyway the slides were in English. The presentation was an overview of the current situation of emissions and an overview of the various climate change talks that have happened like Kyoto and Copenhagen. It was fun to hear directly from the Chinese point of view even though I already know it.

Basically, much of China's energy use is in the industrial sector because half of the world's production of things like steel, aluminum, and flat glass is in China. So industrial energy use accounts for something like 70% instead of 30-40% of energy use in the US. Transportation in China accounts for 10% instead of 30% in the US. Most of electricity in China is from coal, and the presenter talked about the need to upgrade and regulate the quality of coal power plants. He also talked about how China has invested a lot of money in clean energy R&D, although he thought that it's not as much as some reports have said (like the Pew).

One thing that I thought was interesting was that he talked about how planting trees for carbon sequestration is needed, but since the carbon is just stored in the trees, it's not a continual emissions sink that can offset the use of the fossil fuels. I'm glad he brought that up because I think that point is not always presented coherently.

He talked a lot about the different climate conferences and what came of them. He pointed out that nobody is doing very well with their emissions targets set in the Kyoto treaty except for Germany, which has had something like 40% emissions reductions from 1997 levels. He also noted that Russia had a lot lower emissions, too, but I think he said it was due to a bad economy. From the Chinese point of view, it looks really bad that the US has not really made an effort at all to reduce emissions and now only promises a 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020, and yet there has been no progress towards that goal. On the other hand, Chinese goals don't seem that ambitious, but they have some goals for reducing carbon intensity of GDP by 40% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels, and he showed a graph for that, and they were on track for meeting that target. The speaker talked about how developed nations were supposed to commit between .5-1% of their GDP to emissions reduction, but many have not been doing that. He also summarized the tensions between the EU, US, and China/India where the EU is most frustrated with the US, but the US refuses to do anything unless China is held to the same standards. China then pushes back and wants the US to take the lead and provide more financial and technical support for developing nations. He talked about how the talks, especially COP15 compared to the UN talks, have been disorganized politically, and so China has been messing around (or something like that maybe?). From the Chinese point of view, it is a defensive strategy to protect one's interests when you see there is so much confusion and little confidence in the other parties' abilities to live up to their promises. In contrast, when China announces a domestic policy goal, they have a lot of domestic pressure to meet those goals in order to maintain legitimacy as a government.

Goals for COP16 are to figure out what kind of goals are reasonable for everyone, and how these goals can be enforced.

No comments: