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China Signals New Efforts to Address their Global Warming Pollution

Jake Schmidt

Posted September 22, 2009 in Greening China, Solving Global Warming

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Countdown to Copenhagen President Hu Jintao of China has just unveiled before the world a new set of actions that China will undertake to curb their global warming pollution.  The remarks were made today as a part of the UN Secretary General's high-level summit on global warming.  The event (as I discussed here) is one part of the critical "climate week" which is aimed at giving a jumpstart to the international negotiations in the final 3 months before Copenhagen.

China has recently become the world's largest emitter of global warming pollution (overtaking the US) so all eyes have been focused on what China will say (and also what President Obama will say since the US is so critical to this debate).  President Hu's speech was touted before the summit by the lead climate change official for China as: "...an important speech...[that] will announce the next policies, measures and actions that China is going to take" (as reported by Reuters). 

This is the kind of hype that usually precedes major policy speeches by US presidents so a lot of people were watching what China would announce.

So what did President Jintao say?  Here are some snippets and some context (full translated remarks are available here):

"...out of a sense of responsibility to its own people and people across the world, China has taken and will continue to take determined and practical steps to tackle this challenge.  China has adopted and is implementing its national climate change program.  This includes mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity and discharge of major pollutants and increasing forest coverage and the share of renewable energy for the period 2005 through 2010"

As we noted in a recent fact sheet these actions help move China From Crisis to Opportunity: How China is addressing climate change and positioning itself to be a leader in clean energy.  Like anything in life China is a contrast - windmills springing up at a torrential rate and dirty coal plants coming on line at a rapid pace.  So it isn't fair to say that China is taking no action, nor is it fair to say that they have turned the corner on global warming (the story is mixed).

And President Hu went out to say that in the years ahead China will undertake further action:

"...we will intensity our effort to conserve energy and energy efficiency.  We will endeavor to cut CO2 emissions intensity per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from 2005 levels."

While there was some hope that China would provide even more clarity by outlining the specific number for their intensity improvement, this is a negotiation. China did not outline their numbers but neither did the US.  You can expect more back and forth between the two countries and there will be other opportunities where the numbers may be firmed up (like around the time that President Obama goes to China in November or at the Copenhagen meeting this December).  So stay tuned as the number they commit to is important!

As NRDC's China Program Director notes it isn't clear how this commitment will be translated into domestic "law" in China, but our expectations are that it will be translated into their next 5-year plan.  This often signals an important amount of support in achieving the goal.  And the fact that this was done on the international stage is important for the Chinese as their leaders don't like "losing face".

President Hu went on to outline the next set of actions:

"...vigorously develop renewable energy and nuclear energy.  We will endeavor to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15% by 2020.

...increase forest cover by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from 2005 levels.

 ...step up efforts for a green economy and low-carbon economy."

While China most people know that China is building a lot of coal-fired power plants, most people don't realize that they are also building a lot of wind power plants (and other renewables).  In 2008, China's wind power capacity doubled for the fourth straight year.

The forestry commitment is also pretty sizeable as it amount to an increase in the forest cover in China by an amount equivalent to the entire State of Montana (as the Associated Press points out).

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For too long, China and the U.S. have hidden behind the other's inaction.  Yet both countries are changing; both countries are beginning to act.  Now there is opening for partnership.  If the U.S. leads by reducing its own global warming pollution, China will take more steps to curb its own pollution.

The negotiations begin now as China has signaled its willingness to act, while at the same time holding back some important details from their offer.

This dynamic is similar to when you are trying to sell your house and you have a buyer that is interested.  Getting a buyer interested is a significant step.  Once they have declared their interest, then you can discuss numbers.  And that is what the U.S. and China will do.  (HT to DD for the great analogy as always).  Let's close the deal...

After all as both President Obama and President Hu stressed: future generations depend on our actions.

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Comments

Ann DanylkiwSep 25 2009 03:07 PM

I think this is absolutely right. The ability and responsibility that China has to lead in climate negotiations is grossly understated. Read: http://missingthebear.blogspot.com/2009/09/china-lead-climate-change-obama-un.html for more.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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