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Hu speaks — what next?

Julian L. Wong

Isabel Hilton

Readinch

How did the experts respond to Hu Jintao’s speech on climate change? Julian L Wong sees China sending a strong message. Isabel Hilton writes that obstacles remain on the road to Copenhagen.

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“China is sending a strong message” – Julian L Wong

President Hu Jintao of China announced that China will build on existing domestic climate change policies as embodied in its National Climate Change Programme and current Five Year Plan to step up its efforts on energy efficiency, development of low-carbon energy such as renewables and nuclear, and increase of forestry cover.

Most noteworthy was president Hu’s introduction of a new goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product from 2005 levels by 2020 by a “notable margin.” No specific numbers were provided, but this should not be surprising as such a far-reaching national policy must undergo various necessary legislative steps before it can become domestically binding. However, China’s willingness to translate its existing domestic energy conservation goals, often discussed in terms of amount of energy consumed, into a metric that is consistent with the language of international climate policy, i.e. carbon emissions, is the clearest signal yet that China is willing to take on responsibilities that are commensurate with its resources and global emissions impact.

This policy has at least three important implications. First, it would undoubtedly set China on a path to slow down its carbon emissions growth. How quickly such a deceleration leads to a peaking of China’s total emissions depends on the specific carbon intensity targets, but senior Chinese officials have recently given public assurance of China’s desire to peak its emissions “as early as possible.”

Second, a shift of focus from energy intensity to carbon intensity will help accelerate China’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The current energy intensity standard does not distinguish between energy derived from high-carbon fossil fuels and low-carbon renewables or nuclear. By framing China’s efficiency goals in terms of carbon emissions, low-carbon sources of energy will be favoured. A carbon intensity policy would thus not only encourage more efficient use of fossil fuels, as the current energy intensity goal does, but also amplify China’s already ambitious targets on renewable energy deployment.

Third, the policy implicitly commits China to measure, report and verify (MRV) carbon emissions on an ongoing basis. It remains to be seen whether this process will meet the standards transparency that the international community seeks. But contrary to popular wisdom, fairly sophisticated mechanisms for MRV already exist for many of China’s major energy and environmental policies, as a recent study from the World Resources Institute reveals.

The significance of president Hu’s announcements are best understood in the context of other very recent Chinese policy developments. In August, China’s State Council, led by premier Wen Jiabao, set the objective of incorporating climate change considerations into the medium- and long-term development strategies and plans of the Chinese government at every level. Later the same month, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, essentially the inner circle of China’s main legislative body, adopted a resolution on climate change action that explicitly calls for the strengthening of domestic climate legislation while giving assurance that it will be a constructive player in the international climate process.

Taken together, China is sending a strong message that it is serious about tackling climate change and is shaping a comprehensive approach that begins to meet the expectations that the international community has of China. This should serve not only as an indication to the developed countries of China’s good faith on climate action, but also as a catalyst to other developing countries to formulate their own robust low-carbon strategies.


-- Julian L Wong is senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a policy think-tank based in Washington, DC He is also a founding member of the Beijing Energy Network and blogs on The Green Leap Forward, a site dedicated to discussing China’s energy and environmental issues.


“Formidable obstacles remain” – Isabel Hilton

President Hu Jintao’s speech has been received as a positive signal in this week’s frantic efforts to save the UN climate-change conference in Copenhagen, though rather less on delivery than was promised in advance. Despite warm mood music in New York from India, China and the United States, formidable obstacles remain to a serious agreement in December.

Many of the obstacles are built in to the nature of the process itself: it is conducted in the culture of a global trade negotiation, in which each negotiator enters the room with a mission to maximise his country’s gain and minimise what he gives away. The result in trade negotiations is usually the lowest common denominator. This is not enough in the context of climate change. Even worse, if there is no deal in December, we risk a stalled process, like the Doha round.

Each leader’s message in New York this week is addressed in several directions: to his domestic audience, but also to the domestic audience of his counterparts. Each speech must try to straddle the gap of opposing expectations – simultaneously to convince a domestic audience that not too much is being given away, while convincing the domestic audiences elsewhere that much is being offered.

Has president Hu’s message convinced US opponents of president Barack Obama’s climate bill to allow it to pass the senate? Have Obama’s climate promises persuaded sceptical Indian or European voters that the world’s richest country is carrying its fair share of the effort? Has China been convinced that the Annex I countries are serious about technology transfer? In each of these cases, the answer is no. This is one small step on the road to Copenhagen. The destination still seems worryingly distant.


-- Isabel Hilton is editor of chinadialogue
 

Homepage image: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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问题

中国的确很有诚意,问题是其他国家有没有这样的诚意,又能否说服其国民改变生活方式。

question

China really has faith. The question is whether other countries have it. Can they convince their people to change their way of life? translated by tingting


与其植树造林,不如停止砍伐天然森林

胡主席在声明中表示中国将致力于增加其森林覆盖率。中国为了迅速增加森林覆盖率而进行大规模的植树造林,这种做法显然是失败的——简直就是试图在不适合的土壤上开发种植。

那么,那些单一种植的树(一种误解就是将种植园当做森林)适合在哪里种植呢?

中国目前对食物和社会和谐的渴求不应当强制推行把土地转为森林的做法(特别是在某些地区,这种做法受商业利益或者当地政府追求政绩所驱动)。

相反,如果中国停止从原始森林出产国进口木材,情况将可能更有利于气候——天然森林比人工造林更有价值,不仅可以减轻气候变化,而且有益于当地人民和生物多样性等。

大大减少进口热带木材(以及俄罗斯走私木材),也将有助于帮助中国消除其在环境方面与国外(政府)合伙谋利的不利言论。

Better to stop logging natural forest than converting land to plantations

President Hu states that China intends to increase its forest cover. China's efforts to rapidly increase the area covered by plantations are very unsuccessful - tending to be planted on unsuitable soils.

So where will those tree mono-cultures - it is misleading to describe plantations as forests - be planted?

China's need for food and social harmony should over-ride the pressure to convert land to plantations - particularly where that pressure is from commercial interests or local politicians.

Instead, it would probably be far better for the climate if China stopped importing timber from natural forest - natural forest being very much more valuable than plantations not only in mitigating climate change but also for local peoples, biodiversity etc.

Greatly reducing its imports of tropical timber (and illegal timber from Russia) would also help China overcome its record of complicity in environmental (and governance) problems outside China.


回应2号

我同意2号的评论,中国将使用森林固碳作为解决气候变化的一种办法。最好保持中国的原始森林并改善既存森林,这对中国和世界都是一件好事。

中国对热带木材的影响,应该更加严肃的对待。中国作为最大的热带天然木材进口国,但大部分的木材都用于出口美国和欧洲。因此,改善中国森林管理和商业链对于中国应对气候变化来说是非常关键的。

Response to No.2

I agree with No.2 comment, China will use Forest Carbon as one of the solution for combating Climate Change. It is better to keep the natural Forest in China and improve the stand of existing forest. But, Increase forest cover is a good news for China and World.

For China's impact for the tropical timber, It should be addressed seriously, China is the biggest tropical timber consumer, But, Most of the timber are used for producing product exporting to U.S and Europe. So, to improve China's Forest Management and Business Chain for Forest are very crucial for Climate Change.


开弓没有回头箭

胡主席的讲话已经为中国的减排运动开了球。无论年底哥本哈根是否达成协议达成如何协议,中国不会停下来。

A fired arrow won’t return to its bow.

The speech of Hu Jin Tao has already kick-off the movement of emission reduction in China.Regardless, at the end of this year in Copenhagen we will see whether or not an agreement has been reached and how that agreement was reached. However, it remains unlikely that China will stop completely.

This comment was translated by Laura Bewley.


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