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Key questions at Copenhagen

Can a new relationship between China and the United States help form a new climate-change agreement in Denmark this year? CS Kiang and Luo Rui report.

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Last year’s United Nations-led climate-change talks in Poznan, Poland, were the midway point in discussions about the post-Kyoto Protocol regime (see “What happened at Poznan?” by Tan Copsey). Hopes were high, but the global financial crisis meant politicians were preoccupied with economic recovery. Two weeks of talks merely resulted in a working plan. Key questions for negotiation will not be identified until the meeting later this year in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Past climate-change negotiations have often been dramatic. One example was the last-minute change in position by the United States at the talks in Bali, Indonesia. The Copenhagen talks may see similar twists and turns. However, there are longer-term issues to discuss. We must identify which questions the negotiations need to answer in order to lay a firm foundation for long-term approaches to climate change.

The Fourth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that climate change is having an increasing impact on global temperatures and ecosystems. If we are to limit the global average temperature increase to 2° Celsius, global greenhouse-gas emissions need to be controlled at between 50% and 85% of 1990 levels by 2050. Although the science has been strengthened since the Bali meeting, data on emissions reduction targets are still provided only in the footnotes of negotiation documents.

The Kyoto Protocol shows that politicians are capable of compromising in order to achieve emissions-reduction targets. But the climate will not compromise: we need to follow the science in order to evaluate the risks and produce a framework when Kyoto expires in 2012 – and after – and tie this to policy targets on mitigation, adaptation and ecosystem recovery. The complexity and uncertainty of climate science means that room must be left for future adjustments in response to new findings.

Climate negotiations are political, and national political will is decided by a country’s economic development. The Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan (BAP) provide only hypothetical figures for long-term emissions growth, without accounting for the impact of short-term economic fluctuations.

Economic development and greenhouse-gas emissions are closely related. For example, the success of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) depends on the implementation of the treaty by industrialised nations. But as economies contract, the industries that rely on fossil fuels reduce production or close. This can bring the CDM and clean energy investment to a halt.

The Kyoto Protocol does not fully consider national interests and concerns, but the BAP has started to address this failing. Economic recovery is now the overriding concern: if the negotiations toward Copenhagen are dominated by calls for further emissions reduction targets this will not help to form a new climate deal. The focus of the negotiations needs to be economic recovery; this will promote action from the governments and investors that need to see economic development.

No real global reduction in emissions will be seen without real action from major economic powers. The unilateral climate deals of the European Union are unsustainable. Unless nations such as the United States, China and India take the lead, the Copenhagen negotiations may end in deadlock.

The United States and China have key roles to play. In historical, cumulative terms, the United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but current trends indicate that China will take that title in future. Despite differences in economic development, structure and political systems, the two countries are facing the same climate and economic security challenges.   

Both countries have proposed major investment in technology and infrastructure; now we need innovative bilateral partnerships. The two countries have much in common when it comes to increasing energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions from power generation and developing sustainable energy sources. Practical cooperation on energy distribution, transportation and construction is a real possibility. In the past there has been wide-ranging Sino-US cooperation on environment and energy, but political concerns meant technical and financial partnerships were unstable. The sustained support of the leadership of both nations is essential for long-term cooperation, and now is the ideal opportunity. Chinese and US government approaches can have a crucial influence on the climate and energy crisis: bilateral Sino-US agreements could give rise to similar deals, such as between China and India, or between the EU and the United States – and move UN negotiations forward.

Greenhouse-gas emissions have fallen as industrial output falls. However, emissions will rebound when the economy recovers. The downturn is no solution to the climate problem. Nor will a simple extension of the Kyoto Protocol result in real climate action. Developed nations may find it easier than expected to meet their targets due to the downturn, but the long-term question is how to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while resuscitating the global economy.

Now is the moment to reverse the climate crisis. Today’s industrial structures, infrastructure construction and natural resource allocation will determine future emissions. If national economic stimulus packages and public policy can aim to increase energy efficiency, construct environmentally friendly buildings, clean up electricity distribution, build smart power grids, develop renewable energy and drive forward clean transport, we can bolster our economies and lay the foundation for a low-carbon economy, achieving both economic development and climate protection.

However, the low-carbon technology industry is not the same as the information technology or biotechnology industries. It is both capital-intensive and knowledge-intensive; private investment alone will not help the industry scale up sufficiently. The scale of the market must be increased by public funds and clear, long-term policy signals, which will increase private investment.

Economic recovery can form the focus for climate-change negotiations, with major economies establishing bilateral partnerships and using stimulus packages to transform traditional models of growth. However, these efforts cannot be separated from technology issues. Technology-transfer mechanisms have long been the sticking point in negotiations; recent research has found that 76% of transfers still take place between developed nations. Since developing nations may not yet able to foster innovation, technology partnerships with industrialised nations are a good place to start.

An international climate-change agreement should see technology transfer taking place between major economies, with technology cooperation and knowledge-sharing in priority areas, including emissions reduction, economic growth promotion and the strengthening of energy security through infrastructure construction. If high-level government cooperation can send a clear signal, private firms will be encouraged to invest in new innovation and research.

Economic turbulence presents a serious challenge to climate-change negotiations, but it also makes formerly rigid systems more flexible. We can take advantage of economic recovery packages to switch to low-carbon alternatives, using government-led technical partnerships for infrastructure construction, energy efficiency and clean energy projects in order to encourage private investment. Only then will a post-Kyoto climate regime be effective.

Most important of all, would be to see a stable climate-change partnership between the United States and China this year. If we can make this happen, it will be a huge step forward for the world.

Luo Rui is a postgraduate student at Peking University's Institute of Environmental Science and Engineering; he was an observer for China Climate Action Network at the COP13 talks in Bali and COP14 in Poznan,and participated in the "2041" Antarctica expedition.

CS Kiang is director of Peking University Environment Fund and was dean of the university’s Institute of the Environment from 2002 to 2005.

He Gang, Yu Jie and Yang Pingjian also contributed to this article.

 Homepage photo by omarrun

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匿名 | Anonymous



Mermaid to visit Shanghai

Copenhagen's most famous statue, "The Little Mermaid" (pictured with this article) is to visit Shanghai for the World Exposition in 2010. After leaving Denmark for the first time, the statue will be the centrepiece of the country's pavilion at the international fair. The mermaid has been sitting on a rock beside Copenhagen's harbour since 1913. She was inspired by the 19th-century Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale about a sea king's daughter who falls in love with a human prince. -- Ariel

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


同时,根据有关记录,工业能效项目有较高的内部收益率,企业因节能而收到大笔政府津贴(这笔津贴的数目应该和减少排放量(CER)而带来的收益相当) ,中国清洁发展机制(CDM)登记下没有工业能效项目实际上更好(极少数情况除外)。
中国不需要CDM, 和中国政府以及那些私有和国有企业所投资的钱相比,CDM的资金是微不足道的。那么,他们说想要引进技术,但是和我以前的看法一样,到底是什么技术? 我很好奇.-sustainablejohn


and how to discourage new coal fire build?

Given that most industrial energy efficiency investments have low payback times or decent IRRs of 10-15%, it seems these projects should take precedent. But average IRR for new coal build is 15-20%, so why would Chinese enterprise want to save energy when they can make more money just building more power capacity? How to discourage this type of activity?

Also for the record, given the decent IRRs of energy efficiency projects and large government payouts companies receive for making energy intensity reductions (which are on par in magnitude to CER revenue), no energy efficiency project registered under the CDM is actually additional (with maybe a few exceptions).

China does not need the CDM, the money it itself invests as a government and through private and state-owned enterprise dwarfs CDM revenue. So what they say they want is technology transfer, but as per my previous post: which technologies? I'm curious.


Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


translated by diaoshuhuan

Awaiting the mermaid in Shanghai

I am excited about the chance to see the Little Mermaid! I have been waiting a long time for her visit to China. -- Eric

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


也许解决这个问题的最好方法是征收“碳税”,借此来提升清洁能源产品。而那些中国,德国和美国的非清洁能源产品会很合理的丧失市场份额。中国可以通过以下方式重新获得这些份额:(i)如果当地政府不能有效实施对煤力发电加强污染控制的法律,对他们进行严惩; (ii)促进那些设备的更新。虽然英国为自己减少了直接温室气体排放而沾沾自喜,但是他们忽略了整体排放量的快速增长。那些间接排放更多的是来自他们进口的产品,而制造这些产品的地方,比方说中国,并不用对由此产生的污染考虑过多。

translated by Fangfang CHEN

Response to Comment 3

Perhaps the best way to address the issue is to impose carbon taxes in ways which promote goods made from clean energy and vice versa.

Dirty power sources in China, Germany and the USA would quite rightly loose market share. China could quickly regain market share by (i) penalising local governments for failing to enforce the law pertaining to pollution control devices on coal fired power stastions and (ii) obliging the retrofitting of such devices.

Although the UK praises itself for reducing its direct greenhouse gas emissions, it ignores the rapid increase in its overall emissions. The UK's indirect emissions are largely attributable to goods (?bads) which it imports from countries such as China where producers don't have to bother as much about pollution.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Although there are rules to penalize pollution, in reality, some local government departments will illegally ally themselves with companies, leading to lax management, weak supervision, nominal legislation, and failure to reach originally-planned results.
(Translated by Jacob Fromer)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


看起来我的第二个评论是需要些时间审核的…我奇怪中国究竟需要什么技术…在可再生能源领域,中国已经能独立制造太阳能电板,太阳能热水器,生物燃具和风力发电设备了;在建筑能效领域,所有用以提高隔绝效果或改善开窗方式的简单技术,以及更有效的HVAC (供热通风与空调工程)都已经成熟,但还是没有减少低效建筑的建立;在工业能效领域,废弃废压,更有效的马达,都能帮助中国提高能耗…中国已经有了所有需要的技术!对电厂而言,中国更是已经建立了超临界的甚至超超临界的煤力发电站,这些都是顶级技术!我只是不确定中国还需要西方提供什么样其他的技术,我想他们需要更多技术可能不是为了改善气候而只是为了提高他们的生产竞争力。谁能告诉我中国究竟要什么?他们还希望像收到圣诞礼物一样的获得多少技术转移?

(translated by Fangfang CHEN)

which technologies does China want?

it seems my second post didn't go through earlier...i am wondering which technologies it is that China wants...in the realm of renewable energy, china is already producing its own solar panels, solar water heaters, biomass boilers, and wind turbines. some of this technology is 2-3 years behind the rest of the world, but quickly catching up. in terms of building energy efficiency, all the simple technologies for better insulation, windows, and more efficient HVAC is already available yet inefficient buildings still go up every day. As for industrial energy efficiency, waste gas/pressure, more efficient motors, etc. all the techs that help china reach its energy intensity goals... china already has all of these technologies! for power plants, china is already building supercritical and ultra supercritical coal fired power plants, this is top of the line technology! i'm just not sure what other technology china wants from the west. i'm guessing they want more technology not from a climate change point of view, but simply because they want to be more competitive in manufacturing. could someone tell me what it is that china wants? where is the christmas wish list for tech transfer?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The three aspects of climate change

Climate change (the key factor within environment issues), energy resources and sustainable economy are the three well debated issues in today’s world. Scientists, economists and politicians are increasingly taking an all-inclusive approach to the three problems. In reality, unfortunately, politics has come above the three. Having merely their respective political and economic interests in mind, individual nations are making their cases over global issues and the future of humanity on the ground of their own history and current state of development. Science and technology overshadow these three hot topics, accepting the selfless dedication of scientists and young students, while bringing greater profit to enterprises and bringing consumers more, and better products (especially in terms of design).

In today’s world, politicians have taken their discussions on climate change to an ever new level. Their talks have gone beyond traditional diplomatic, military and political spheres and entered the domain of energy cooperation, economy and trade, social and cultural exchange. They have worked out from this scientific issue an above-reality and far-fetched topic of “the challenges and coping strategies brought up by global climate change”. It is above-reality because it covers a huge timespan, though not huge enough to exceed a geological era, for example, the current Fourth Glacial Period we’re in. And it is far-fetched because it covers every aspect of human life and every corner of the earth (even the no man’s land in the Antarctic ice cap). I’m not opposed to the fact that people are paying ever more attention to climate change and environment preservation, and I'm even more open to the prudence and open-mindedness scientists demonstrate while discussing the issue of climate change. But I suspect that some politicians from developed countries are playing up the theory of climate change (just call it a theory) so as to take an aggressive posture and launch a new round of rhetoric barrage at those new developing countries. I hate to wait until the answer surfaces but that’s all I can do.
On the whole, however, I totally agree to the idea of dialogue, especially dialogue between people of various backgrounds and from all walks of life. Anyway the theory of climate change brings its participants new opportunities.

(Translated by Yang bin)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


(translated by diaoshuhuan)

a threat for Europe

The bilateralism between USA and China threaten Europe. It is an evidence than the mechanism of the Kyoto protocol are inefficient.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



China doesn't need any technology

A friend asked a good question: what technology does China need? We don't need any. China is the world's largest producer of energy saving lamps, but unfortunately it is not being used in the country; China is the world's largest producer of solar panels but it's too bad that it was sold off to overseas. One can then believe that we're idiots, for what are we doing selling off these valuable adornments. Comrades, by the time China imports energy efficient lights and solar panels from abroad, we Chinese will more are less be a major energy-saving country, but won't be a major energy-using country anymore. I'm afraid we're going to have to wait for a very long time.

Comment translated by Ellen Schliebitz