Letter from Doha

Source: Getty
Op-Ed China Economic Review
Summary
With UN climate talks seemingly losing momentum, China should step up domestic mitigation ambitions, not least because they serve the country’s own interests.
Related Media and Tools
 

Little progress was made during the two weeks of tedious negotiations of the UN global climate talks at Doha that ended on December 8. Industrialized nations have not kept their financial promises made in Copenhagen in 2009, and the developing country bloc is generally unwilling to single out major emerging economies to step up their efforts to mitigate emissions. The deep-rooted mistrust accumulated between the world’s poor and rich countries has led to skepticism about whether the UN climate negotiations will ever be able to deliver a robust outcome in a timely fashion.

Compared with other developing countries, Beijing is less enthusiastic about the green climate fund, a mechanism to transfer money from the developed to the developing world to assist with climate change mitigation, as China does not expect to benefit from such a financial mechanism. And last year in Durban, all countries, no matter their stage of development, decided to work toward a legally binding international climate treaty by 2015 that takes effect in 2020. Given China’s spiking greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, the Durban Platform is expected to become a serious policy challenge for Beijing.

Despite the gloomy prospects of international climate negotiations, China should step up its own climate ambitions. Such a move would not only demonstrate Beijing’s willingness to become a responsible power, but more importantly tremendously benefit the Middle Kingdom by simultaneously tackling China’s increasingly serious concerns over air quality, energy security and resource constraints. Above all, with its vast land area, extensive neighboring seas and diverse weather conditions, China is perhaps the most vulnerable of all major nations to the consequences of climate change.

The way of the dinosaurs

Coal is the backbone of China’s energy sector, and it lies at the heart of any solution to fend off climate change. It accounts for 70% of the country’s primary energy consumption and about 80% of China’s power generation. According to the International Energy Agency, coal-fired carbon emissions in China were 17% higher than total carbon dioxide emissions in the US in 2010.

Beijing has faced mounting pressure to cap national coal production and consumption due to increasing environmental and social costs of its unprecedented exploitation and use. As a result, Beijing aims to cap coal production and consumption at around 3.9 billion tons by 2015. The problem is that this type of command and control policy does not bode well for an increasingly market-oriented Chinese economy, especially considering that China’s national coal consumption increased by 161 million tons annually during the 11th Five Year Plan period between 2006 and 2010, and was already 3.68 billion tons in 2011.

But China needs to act. To lower mining-related environmental degradation and to avoid a bloated coal industry once national coal consumption peaks, Beijing needs to be serious about meeting its national coal production cap. After implementing a comprehensive strategy to suppress national coal consumption, China should increase coal imports to suppress domestic mining activities and meet the national coal production cap. 

To substitute coal at scale, rapid expansion of nuclear capacity is one of the most viable options. Before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis in March 2011, some in the Chinese nuclear industry enthusiastically proposed to increase the country’s installed operational nuclear capacity from 10.8 gigawatts in 2010 to more than 100 gigawatts by 2020. However, in the latest plans for nuclear development, Beijing significantly tightened safety standards and postponed approval of inland reactors until 2015. In order to accelerate the peaking of national coal consumption, China needs to shift its focus to encouraging the development of alternative fuels with lower carbon emissions. 

Expansion of natural gas use is often seen as an ideal solution to China’s currently unsustainable energy mix. Gas could improve the country’s environment because of its lower air pollution and carbon emissions. Successful exploitation of domestic gas supplies could also make the country less dependent on energy imports, a longstanding goal of Beijing. However, China has only 1.5% of global proven gas reserves and already accounts for more than 3% of natural gas production in the world.

Fortunately, according to the US Energy Information Administration, China has more technologically recoverable shale gas than any other country in the world, enough to fuel the entire Chinese power sector – the largest in the world – for 30 years. In this context, Beijing is interested in duplicating the US success with shale. 

But there are many barriers preventing China from using the shale supply to its full potential. The primary barrier is the location of China’s shale gas deposits – mainly in mountainous areas and remote deserts, as well as being buried deep underground. Hydraulic fracturing, a water-intensive process, is required to extract these deposits, and so the serious water shortages facing many of these areas make it difficult to scale up output.

Even so, the shale gas revolution will certainly cross the Pacific Ocean on some level. However, before that happens Beijing will need a major revamp of basic policies such as  the protection of property rights in order to attract the right type of developers, which include experienced international companies and innovative private     enterprises.

Be resourceful

Renewable development in China has been impressive during the past decade.  China currently leads the world in terms of solar panel manufacturing and annual increases in wind capacity. Nevertheless, before the 12th Five Year Plan is up in 2015, China should deal with negative aspects of renewable development to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

First of all, Beijing must better regulate electricity transmission in order to encourage grid connection for renewable power. Secondly, overcapacity, especially in regards to manufacturing, has severely damaged the long-term sustainability of the Chinese renewable industry. Beijing should learn from the frenzy of government subsidies in the past and ongoing anti-dumping disputes with its major trading partners and make governmental support of low carbon development more compatible with international norms.

Of course, focusing policy endeavors on the upstream energy sector alone are not enough. Energy conservation, demand-side management, technological innovation and market-based tools like carbon pricing all will be important components of a comprehensive national energy and climate strategy.

Whatever emissions reductions China is able to achieve alone will be insufficient for a global climate solution. So it is important for China to collaborate on low carbon initiatives with the rest of the world, especially the group of CURE economies – China, the US, Russia and the EU. The aggregate economic output, energy consumption and carbon emissions of this group are expected to continuously represent more than half of global total in the decades to come.

All four will benefit from collaboration on climate solutions. China can advance its cooperation with the US and Europe and at the same time increase its own energy security with closer ties with Russia. The US will face less pressure from the developing world to pay the full cost of adaptation and mitigation. Russia will improve its miserable energy efficiency record. And Europe will have greater success in transferring to these countries its experience with climate legislation and carbon trading, while exploring specific opportunities with Russia and the US to internally develop and import more natural gas as a substitute for coal. 

With the world urgently running out of time to contain the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, UN climate talks have unfortunately lost momentum. Nevertheless, China should still step up domestic mitigation ambitions, not least because they serve the country’s own interests. Ideally, Beijing will take the lead in facilitating CURE collaboration on global climate solutions.

This article was originally published in the China Economic Review.

End of document

About the Energy and Climate Program

The Carnegie Energy and Climate Program engages global experts working on issues relating to energy technology, environmental science, and political economy to develop practical solutions for policymakers around the world. The program aims to provide the leadership and the policy framework necessary to minimize the risks that stem from global climate change and to reduce competition for scarce resources.

 

Comments

 
 
Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/12/24/letter-from-doha/exks

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
 
 
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
 
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.

请注意...

你将离开清华—卡内基中心网站,进入卡内基其他全球中心的网站。