On the first day of the climate-change talks in Tianjin, October 4, while delegates from all countries involved took the stage at the opening ceremony to express their determination in the meetings ahead,Chinese NGO the Global Environmental Institute (GEI) was focusing on the climate challenge in China's rural areas.
In a side-meeting entitled “Energy in the countryside - an indispensable solution to climate change”, Dr Xiao Yunhan from the Chinese Academy of Sciences said: “The rate of increase in the consumption of energy from fossil fuels in the Chinese countryside has already surpassed that in the cities. In 2007, this figure was 9.42% in the countryside and 5.47% in the cities”.
He also pointed out that the makeup of energy sources in rural areas has undergone a big shift: in 2001, non-fossil fuel sources accounted for 59% of total energy consumption, with fossil fuels 41%. The data for recent years shows a 29% to 71% split in favour of fossil-fuels.
Of the rural areas in which energy use is increasing, the regions around large cities are particularly notable. In 2008, the carbon-dioxide emissions of the countryside around Beijing and Shanghai were ranked first and second out of all rural areas in China.
The phenomenon of increasing energy use in the countryside seems to echo China’s continuous emphasis on the right to develop and the question, where China disagrees with the rest of the world, of when China’s emissions will peak and at what level. More and more organisations like GEI (at this side-meeting, they were bodies like S3IDF, GRES Cambodia and Nexus) are now paying close attention to the increase in greenhouse-gas emissions brought on by development in the countryside, and are using tools such as energy-efficient stoves to help local residents improve their lives at the same time as easing the pressure on the environment.
China’s cities have, in the past, introduced a much-trumpeted policy to promote energy-saving light bulbs.Similarly strong, energy saving, materially beneficial policies (such as the promotion of energy-efficient stoves) can also benefit farmers. It is just a question of when.