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A new approach at Copenhagen (2)

Angang Hu

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China must achieve and improve on its energy-saving targets in order to realise low-carbon development, writes Hu Angang in the second section of a three-part essay.

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[Produced in association with Rutgers Climate and Social Policy Initiative]

China has set very challenging targets on reducing energy use and emissions. The eleventh Five-Year Plan, which runs from 2006 to 2010, aims to reduce energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) by 20%, the equivalent of reducing energy consumption from 1.22 tonnes to 0.97 tonnes of coal per 10,000 yuan of GDP. Even if China were to continue its 10% annual GDP growth, seen during the tenth Five Year Plan, energy consumption can only grow by 5.2% a year. However, the figures for 2006 and 2007 show this will be no easy task. The European Union gave itself a similar target, but has until 2020 to achieve it.

However, there are signs of change as energy consumption and release of major pollutants in China start to drop, laying a foundation for a new phase. In 2006 and 2007, energy intensity dropped by 1.23% and 3.2% respectively, the first drop for years. In 2007, SO2 emissions and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) dropped by 4.66% and 3.14% respectively.

Generally speaking, there is a delay from the adoption of a policy to seeing its effects. The locked-in effects of existing infrastructure mean this is especially true in this area of policy. It is no surprise that the targets have been missed these past two years.

There is a historical precedent for a large drop in China’s energy consumption. During the sixth Five-Year Plan, energy intensity dropped by 5.2% per year on average; by 5.7% during the eighth Five-Year Plan; and by 8% during the ninth. Therefore, an average annual drop of 5.4% between 2008 and 2010 is possible. Although the task is hard because of the level of economic development, industrial structure, urbanisation and trade patterns, the unprecedented international environment, political will and economic investment makes it possible. China is capable of achieving its energy saving targets in the eleventh Five-Year Plan and beyond.

The target is not simply economic; it is a political commitment by the government to its citizens – and to the world. It indicates China’s political will and its commitment to reducing emissions, meeting the challenges of climate change and developing a low-carbon economy. This target is the first step on the road to a low-carbon economy, and it is of greater political than economic significance.

However, China’s international emissions reduction policy is not in step with the world. China is still considered a developing country, with no emissions reduction responsibilities, commitments or contributions toward meeting an international consensus.

A public commitment to reduce emissions, backed by central government targets, would be a massive spur to domestic emissions cuts. Participation in international climate-change negotiations and adopting climate-change regulations can provide the opportunity to implement of a beneficial energy and climate policy. More importantly, worsening climate change will increase the pressure to cut emissions. Failure to change energy and climate policy will mean choosing to fight over resources.

In the long term, a commitment to reduce emissions is in accord with the Chinese government’s ideas of scientific development and ecological civilisation. Its implications, targets and processes are exactly those needed to ensure national energy security, address climate change and establish a resource-saving and environmentally-friendly society.

Currently the road map for global emissions reductions is clear:
•By 2020 carbon dioxide emissions should have peaked;
•By 2030 there should be annual emissions of less than 35 billion tonnes;
•By 2050 there should be annual emissions of less than 20 billion tonnes.

A Chinese road map should mirror this three-step process:
•By 2020 carbon dioxide emissions should have peaked;
•By 2030 there should be annual emissions of less than 2.2 billion tonnes (a reduction to 1990 levels).
•By 2050 there should be annual emissions of less than 1.1 billion tonnes (half of 1990 levels).

Undertaking these commitments is a major strategic decision that will impact on China’s long-term development. It is a question of whether China’s national interests are the same as those of human development.

An undertaking to reduce emissions raises two questions: what to commit to; and how to achieve it. The decisions made by Chinese politicians today will set the direction for development in the future.

In 1987 a similar plan was proposed by Deng Xiaoping: first, tto double the 1980 gross national product (GNP) and ensure adequate food and clothing for people, a goal that has already been achieved; second, to double 1980 GNP by the end of the century, and achieve a “relatively good” standard of living; third, by the middle of the twenty-first century to have per-capita GNP at that of “intermediate-level” developed countries, to be modernised and for people to be “relatively well-off”. In response to doubts, Deng said it may be necessary to rely on the greater intelligence of future generations. It now appears that all of these goals were realistic. 

China’s current leaders should take a leaf out of Deng’s book: identify the strategic direction and trust that future generations will be wiser. The  leaders themselves will only be in power for a decade at most; it is neither feasible nor necessary for them to reach the goals they set. Completion will take several generations. All that is needed now is the commitment.

Since 1750, the world has seen four industrial revolutions. First, the Industrial Revolution in Britain, in which China played no part. Then the industrialisation of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, in which China also missed out. In the late twentieth century, information technology changed the world, and this time China seized its opportunity.

With the advent of the new century a change has arrived in the form of the green industrial revolution. China missed out on the first two revolutions and was only a follower in the third, but it can be the leader, innovator and driver of the fourth, alongside the United States, Japan and the EU.

We can expect climate change to form the domestic and international backdrop for China’s future development. Against this backdrop, the Chinese leadership faces two pressing questions: how to transform China’s economy into a low-carbon economy; and how to participate in global governance, moving from national to regional and worldwide governance.

There is no doubt about the direction the tide is flowing. We can ride the wave and prosper, or fight the flow and be pulled under. China’s leaders must realise this and fall in line with global proposals.

NEXT: China’s contribution to the world

Hu Angang is one of China’s best-known economists. He is professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University and the director of the Centre for China Study, a leading policy think-tank. Hu has worked as the chief editor for China Studies Report, a circulated reference for senior officials.

Produced in association with:

Homepage photo by kongharald

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Copenhagen: a lost cause

I think saving energy is not difficult. We, the Chinese people, mostly use solar energy, and use some wind energy. Isn’t that enough to achieve most of the reduction targets? If we put the 1,600,000,000 exported compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) in our own houses, along with the washing machines, refrigerators, televisions, and other top notch energy saving models, saving energy would be very easy. But who will pay for it, and who will pay extra for it? Therefore, saving energy to reduce emissions is an economic issue, and to a large extent is not a technological issue. We mostly have the technology. However, it’s very difficult to balance this account. Doing things in this way, it would benefit our country and our people. Ultimately, are there really benefits to development? Figuring out how much profit is necessary, and how long it will take for an investment to pay off is something we need to make an effort to study harder and to solve as quickly as possible. Our country is still hesitant because we can’t solve this problem, so we don’t know what to do. No matter from which developed country speaking style you use, no matter whether you say calculating old debts is good or lumping together developing countries and saying they are not admitting to their faults is good, it still isn’t a long time to calculate. Even if Copenhagen doesn’t come to an agreement this year, I can see that this kind of meeting is tremendous, and we do need to face this kind of reality. Sooner or later we will all need to fully assume our responsibility to reduce emissions. Of course, that always needs to wait until our country has accumulated enough wealth. But at that time, I think that assuming our responsibility will cost far more than it would right now. Comrade Angang (the author) uses too wide of a focus, I think it is unclear what this undertaking ultimately includes, and we need to be a little more specific. We the millions should not be confused by the huge margin of energy savings made by China in 2008; that was only because of the economic crisis which caused production to slack off, which created a temporary facade. They were not because we achieved a huge breakthrough in our energy saving efforts which inevitably caused such an outcome. However, in relation to this question, if the rate of decrease in production is faster than the rate of energy saving accomplishments, then it totally proves this point: our energy saving appliances are falling back, and are not making progress. Just take the first two months of this year. Energy usage by the industries decreased substantially; however the first and third sectors of the economy increased their energy usage. Can you say that our energy usage has become increased in efficiency instead of decreased in efficiency? We cannot be confused by surface appearances. More importantly, energy saving puts our indigenous wisdom to the test, not the one child policy. We started to develop at the first sounding of the bell. We need to mobilize the entire population and find an opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves. Even though others strongly advocate saving energy to reduce admissions, they are always using other people’s logic. In this world there are no fools and no Lei Fengs (ideal communists who serve their country). What is this reasoning, ultimately? Everyone sees what they want. (Translated by Michelle Deeter)




Emissions reduction due to recession or policy success

The impact of recession on the emissions of industrial countries - including China - will be used by politicians to demonstrate the success of their green policies.

China might also be affected by the re-location of industries from China to cleaner countries.

Steep reductions in emissions from persistent sources of emissions must be made, particularly those (a) from coal-fired power stations which do not meet legally binding specifications for emissions, and (b) caused by the conversion of forest (especially that on peat) to plantations or other agribusiness. Doing so would demonstrate the sincerity and effectiveness of government policies.



Fantastic ideas!

This academic's ideas are really fantastic. However, how many eggs are we to put in the global climate change basket? Who can drive the green revolution into effect? And who will be the best promoter of it?
(translated by diaoshuhuan)



The Rise of Green

The writer of the article wants China to seize the opportunity in taking part in the rise of the Green Industrial Revolution, and from here enter the world stage. Speaking from a historical angle, this is a difficult opportunity to obtain. Civilian revival is in sight, but if they are too afraid to take control the revival will have no future and will fall flat. The so-called Green Industrial Revolution is an opportunity we must still reflect on.

This article was translated by Kate Truax.



We need to seek truth from facts

When supporting one's arguments, one needs to seek truth from facts. The author stated that "Currently the road map for global emissions reductions is clear". I am not sure where this "clear" map comes from. Who made it? The negotiations in the United Nations is still in process, and IPCC has not offered any map. Where exactly does this map come from?

According to the author, it seems that China can make a commitment first, and then start actions later. The current leaders may only make promises without even considering the possibilities of keeping them, as they will not be in office by then. Fairness aside, it is already irresponsible to make a promise without analysing its feasibility. Secondly, this way of thinking is not to be tolerated: "After me, the flood". The experts who made the proposal may not care about the result, but a responsible government must. It is OK to go for the hot subjects, but one must do some basic homework. This is even truer for researchers.



Instinct and Consciousness

Many of us criticise instinctively, but don't consciously reduce our emissions. We have many experts, whether they are famous economists or unknown ones who want to be famous, but in reality we need climate economists who are experienced and famous. Unfortunately, we don't have them. So, all the discussion is nonsense. Even one million comments won't solve any problems. We even don't know who the members of the discussion are.


你说的挺对的,搞清楚到底是什么人在参与讨论会有所帮助,不过我并不认同说这样的谈论毫无重点。我们并没有要求评论者必须表明他们的身份,但如果他们愿意的话,中外对话的编辑队伍肯定欢迎至极,当然包括评论6的作者。——伊莎贝尔·希尔顿Isabel Hilton
(translated by diaoshuhuan)

re Instinct and Consciousness

You are right that it would be good to know who is posting in this discussion, though I do not agree that discussion is pointless. We do not require contributors to sign their comments, but the editorial team at chinadialogue would certainly welcome it if they did, including, of course, the author of comment number 6

Isabel Hilton


(translated by diaoshuhuan)

Message to Isabel

What I have actually meant above is that we even don't know who are the members in our national climate change delegate in Bonn and Copenhagen or anywhere.That is why I am curious who are they, are they qualified enough to speak on behalf of the state. There are many mistakes of the translation, as always. And translation is above all the most serious issue today in China.




Cook the book to look good

It is known to energy industry insiders that many firms have cooked their books to look good in regard to energy efficiency improvements in the past 3 years. We have almost everything in place including the Energy Conservation Law and we have enforced a nation-wide energy audit of large energy consumers, for example any firm with a total consumption exceeding 10,000 TOCE. Suddenly a lot of energy auditing firms sprung up and made a fortune by auditing service, with a price roughly 50,000RMB per case, which is much much lower in western standard but huge profitable for these Chinese firms. The only year that actually hit the annual energy reduction target is the year 2008, and it is largely due to the economic recession in the manufacturing sectors, not because we have significant achievements on the energy efficiency part. By this sense it is also dubious that as we have the mandatory energy targets during the 11th 5-year plan which is a 20% reduction,yet we can not come to the conclusion that we can have a mandatory emission reduction for the international community. It means we actually can not deliver that target in whatever means. And what is worse, I am afraid that the....



An Opinion

I think that the meaning of the commentator above is that China's economic energy laws isn't actually about energy conservation laws. That law is for universal use...
(Translated by Braden Latham-Jones.)

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