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Chinese and US climate interests are converging

Bilateral climate change negotiations between China and the US are the most significant development since the Kyoto Protocol

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Both China and the US are working to weaken their historical reliance on coal for generating electricity (Image by Bao Lihui / Greenpeace)

In international climate-change negotiations, the world’s two biggest emitters – China and the United States – have sometimes engaged in vehement debates regarding the fundamental question of who should do what. Most recently, these two giants, and their respective allies in the developed and developing worlds, have clashed over their very different interpretations of a key phrase in the agreement reached under the United Nations-led talks in South Africa in 2011.

The point of contention is the call under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action for a global climate deal to be reached in Paris in 2015 that is “applicable to all Parties … under the Convention”. The US and other industrialised countries have insisted that this calls for an agreement containing emissions reduction pledges by all countries. In particular, they understand it to include industrialised countries plus the large emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, Korea, Mexico and South Africa.

But China, India, and most countries in the developing world, point out that the Durban Platform was adopted under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with its key principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” – the idea that rich countries should bear a greater share of the burden of tackling climate change – as well as the subsequent mandate calling for emissions reductions only by developed (so-called Annex 1) countries. Therefore, they say, the Durban Platform calls only for emission reduction commitments from the industrialised nations.

In the midst of these ongoing international debates, there is a very encouraging reality, however – namely the heightened degree of bilateral discussions on climate change policy between China and the United States. In fact, bilateral negotiations between China and the United States – possibly outside of the UNFCCC – are where real progress is most likely to be made. For global efforts to tackle climate change, they are the most significant development since the Kyoto Protocol. 

This is happening because of an emerging convergence of interests between the world’s two most important countries as far as climate change – and international policy to address it – are concerned. Five factors stand out: 

1) 
Emissions

First, the annual carbon dioxide and greenhouse-gas emissions of these two countries have already converged. While America’s CO2 emissions in 1990 were almost twice the level of Chinese emissions, by 2006 China had overtaken the United States. They are the world’s two largest emitters.

2) 
Historical responsibility

Second, cumulative emissions are particularly important, because it is the accumulated stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that cause climate change. Any discussion of distributional equity in the climate realm therefore inevitably turns to considerations of historic responsibility. Looking at the period 1850-2010, the United States led the pack, accounting for nearly 19% of cumulative global emissions of greenhouse gases, with the European Union in second place at 17%, and China third, accounting for about 12% of global cumulative emissions.  

But that picture is rapidly changing. Emissions are flat to declining throughout the industrialised world, while increasingly rapidly in the large emerging economies, in particular China. Depending on the relative rates of economic growth of China and the United States, as well as other factors, China may top all countries in cumulative emissions within 10 to 20 years.

3) 
Fuel sources

Third, China and the United States both have historically high reliance on coal for generating electricity –and both are trying to do something about it. At a time when US dependence on coal is decreasing (due to increased supplies of unconventional natural gas and hence lower gas prices) China continues to rely on this fossil fuel. But Beijing is very concerned about this dependence, partly because of the health impacts of particulates and other pollutants. 

Importantly, both countries have very large shale gas reserves. US output (and use for electricity generation) has been increasing rapidly, bringing down CO2 emissions. Chinese exploitation has been constrained by available infrastructure – it lacks pipelines – but that will change.

4) 
Policy approaches

Fourth, in both countries, sub-national market-based climate policies – in particular, cap-and-trade systems – are moving forward. In the case of China, seven pilot carbon markets at local level are under development. In the United States, California’s ambitious AB-32 cap-and-trade system continues to make progress, while in the northeast, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is witnessing higher allowance auction prices due to the more severe targets recently adopted by the nine states involved.

5) 
Geopolitics

Fifth and finally, there is the reality of global geopolitics. If the twentieth century was the American Century, then many observers, including leaders in China, anticipate (or at least hope) that the twenty-first century will be the Chinese Century. In this regard, I’m reminded of a statement I have made before: “If it’s your century, you don’t obstruct, you lead.”

Now more than ever…

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匿名 | Anonymous

快速取代化石燃料

当今有很多新兴但是未被认同的科技为廉价取代化石燃料和核燃料打开了一扇门。

比如依靠太阳能产生的大气热量不断运作的引擎。它们所利用的太阳能是世界上所有化石燃料所蕴含能量的几千倍。详细信息请看http://www.aesopinstitute.org/second-law-surprises.html。

以及不消耗化石燃料的涡轮机可以取代现有的活塞发动机。非常多的新型科技都可以取代现在发电厂所拥有的发电方式。

但是这些新技术需要独立实验室来验证快速变换的可行性。它们将会通过连接1000瓦的应急发电机和家庭用电系统来进行验证。

零化石燃料的涡轮机可以广泛应用于混合动力的汽车和卡车,可以将产生的电出售给适合的用电设施,因此这些车最终可以实现自给自足,也不用任何的金属线。其他的涡轮机可以用于飞机供电。

因此现在面临的挑战是完成这些原始模型,验证他们,然后将这些非凡的引擎实现批量生产。

FAST REPLACEMENT FOR FOSSIL FUELS

Emerging, unrecognized, science opens a door to technology that makes possible inexpensive replacement of all fossil and radioactive fuels.

Engines have been invented which run continuously on atmospheric heat, a form of solar energy containing many thousands of times the total energy available from all of the fossil fuels.

See: http://www.aesopinstitute.org/second-law-surprises.html to learn why and how.

Piston engines will be followed by fossil fuel-free turbines. Large examples will supersede existing turbines in all types of power plants.

Prototypes will be validated by independent laboratories to demonstrate the potential for rapid change.

Desktop examples will be followed by 1,000 watt emergency generators and home power units.

Fuel-free turbines promise hybrid cars and trucks with unlimited range, able to sell power to utilities when suitably parked. Eventually such vehicles could pay for themselves. No wires needed. Variations will power aircraft.

Completing prototypes and bringing these remarkable engines into mass production is the current challenge.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

错误的中国等级排位

文章开头指出,中国和美国是世界两大排放国。文章结尾也提到,“如果说二十世纪是美国世纪的话,那么包括中国领导人在内的许多观察家都预期(或者至少希望)二十一世纪成为中国世纪。”而这样一个有势力的国家却被联合国列入发展中国家,因此不用为大气CO2浓度上升而负责,这样合理吗?

wrong ranking of China

You wrote that China ans the USA are both "two giants". You are writing also that "If the twentieth century was the American Century, then many observers, including leaders in China, anticipate (or at least hope) that the twenty-first century will be the Chinese Century". Is it reasonnable that a so mighty country as China remains classified by the UN among the developping countries and consequently not liable of the level of the CO² in the athmospher?