China is moving on climate change

According to Associated Press, China is increasingly aware of the threats of climate change, water crises and air pollution. This is palpable at the current Poznan talks.

More willing than ever to cooperate on mitigating the phenomenon, the top greenhouse gases emitter and world’s most populous nation will become greener in the next years.

This could go faster with the new US Administration as President-elect Obama will bring to the White House brand new plans and views on environmental issues.

To the news agency’s article:

Once global warming’s bad boy, China is now winning praise for its upbeat role in climate talks, a turnaround perhaps brought on by the effects of carbon emissions on its choking cities, shrinking water resources and increasingly flooded lowlands.

(…) China has a long way to go.

It depends on carbon-laden coal for 70 percent of its power, and has plans to build more than 550 coal-fired power stations. Its capital is so polluted that it had to close much of its industry and order cars off roads last summer so athletes could compete in the Beijing Olympics.

Last year, China overtook the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and accounted for two-thirds of the global increase in carbon emissions in 2007.

Yet the Chinese still emit about one-fourth as much carbon per person as the average American.

China insists it won’t sacrifice development to convert speedily to a low-carbon economy.

“In this world, there are still some people who are living in abject poverty. For them, subsistence comes first,” said Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi, speaking Tuesday in Hong Kong.

But the Chinese compromise last year broke a long-standing deadlock between industrial and developing countries on sharing a burden that has been shouldered until now only by industrial nations.

“That was a very big step,” said Li Yan, of the environmental group, Greenpeace. “Now the challenge is not to say what is the next step, but to implement” policy with Western financial help.

(…) “If we are to achieve a comprehensive climate deal we need a very strong Chinese engagement,” Denmark’s Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday. “I am pleased to note a strong Chinese commitment to mitigating climate change,” said the Danish leader, who visited Beijing last month. The new treaty is due to be completed next December in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

While more flexible than in the past, the Chinese still balk at accepting specific targets, like industrial countries. They also want the rich countries to commit to donating 1 percent of their gross domestic product to help poor countries fight global warming.

(…) Last month China issued a revealing “white paper” that laid out its policies and the reasons behind them.

It said China has had 21 warm winters since 1986, the flow of water in its northern rivers has slowed while its southern rivers have experienced more floods. Its glaciers are melting, threatening future run-off and water reserves. The sea level is rising along its 11,200-mile (18,000 km) coast, damaging wetlands, coral reefs and marine life.

China is ready to do its share on climate change, the document said, while working to ease poverty among its 1.3 billion people.

“Climate change arises out of development, and should thus be solved along with development,” it said.

(…) About 70 percent of China’s carbon emissions are produced by heavy industry, compared with 20 percent in the United States where the bulk of emissions comes from cars, home heating and service industries.

Yet the Chinese have adopted progressive measures to control pollution.

Their vehicle emissions standards are among the world’s most stringent, and they have resolved to use less power to produce goods. Last year alone, the white paper said, China used 3.7 percent less energy to produce one unit of gross domestic product.

In each of the last two years China has more than doubled its renewable energy capacity, and is now the world’s fifth largest user of wind turbines, said Li, the Greenpeace activist.

“Green energy is booming,” she said, but added China still must move away from coal faster. “Even at such unprecedented growth, considering the challenge of climate change, a lot needs to be done on a far larger scale.”

It has closed 11,200 small coal mines and 2,000 inefficient and heavily polluting paper and dyeing mills and chemical plants.

Schmidt, the environmental analyst, said he expected China’s policy to continue evolving.

“One of the stumbling blocks was the lack of U.S. leadership.” With the climate-friendly policies of President-elect Barack Obama, “you’ll notice the change in the rhetoric and tone will continue,” he said.

4 thoughts on “China is moving on climate change”

  1. “Yet the Chinese still emit about one-fourth as much carbon per person as the average American.”

    The important thing to remember about China, as with most developing countries, is that really it’s two countries. There’s a minority living like Westerners, and an impoverished majority living in dreadful conditions. So that they have lower per capita emissions than the US is not a reflection of greener policies, it’s a result of most of their people living in abject poverty.

    A typical Third World country might have 50 million people and 6 tonnes per capita emissions, compared to Australia’s 20 million people and 25t per person. However, that Third World country is really an upper class of 5 million with 25t per person emissions, and 45 million with 3.9t per person. In some countries like Nigeria or Namibia none of the poor are joining that upper class, in others like India they are slowing joining it.

    When considering the environmental position of these countries, it’s important to bear that in mind. The well-off Chinese face similar problems to the West in reducing emissions – they have existing infrastructure and must change it, and must learn to reduce their consumption. The poor Chinese face a different problem, they have no infrastructure at all.

    That is, the highly-polluting part of China, like the West as a whole, has the financial means to develop green infrastructure; but the low-polluting part, the part that ensures China’s per capita emissions are only one-fourth those of the US, they don’t.

    There’s a difference between going from coal-fired stations, highways with SUVs and half a cow eaten a year to something greener, and going from mud huts and subsistence farming to something greener.

    So while we in the West face one major problem in becoming greenish, the Third World faces two, the green change with us, somehow coupling that with lifting people out of poverty.

  2. China emissions are amazingly falling this quarter as electricity consumption falls a record in November. See details at:

    And there are pretty intense changes in US energy (especially driving) habits. One exciting development is that we are consuming more than 5% less oil in ‘08 and thus carbon emissions are poised to fall 2.5% this year. See details at:

    The real challenge will be how we continue emissions reduction once the economy picks up again.

    If you find the SET daily blog on major energy and climate developments useful at , please consider adding it to your blogroll.

    Onwards to sustainability,

  3. Thanks Kyle and Dennis for your respective comments.

    > Dennis: please be welcome here. I always appreciate newcomers.

    Regarding the decreasing emissions, it is all to normal as the economy is in recession. What would be a good thing is that when this is over, emissions don’t go up again…

    In any case, be sure that I will keep you posted on that topic ! 🙂

    > Kyle: I agree, China is a two faced countries with the East coast and the rest of the country.

    But, I feel optimistic….

  4. Yesterday as I left my two bedroom unit with to visit someone in a four bedroom house with two people, something else occurred to me, which is that even the urban middle-classed Chinese may have less emissions per person compared to Australians or Americans, simply because they often live in tiny flats.

    I couldn’t find authoritative figures, but this article says,

    “According to statistics from the Ministry of Construction, the average home area for each urban dweller rose from 6.7 square meters in 1978 to 27 square meters in 2006.”

    This article behind a paywall gives us a figure of 23.67 sq m.

    In Australia, the average size for new dwellings in 2003-4 was 239 square metres, with 2.59 people per household [[source, Dept of Environment quoting ABS], or 92 square metres per person. American figures are similar. This is more than three times the Chinese average.

    If you are going to light, heat, cool and provide entertainment in a home, the larger it is per person the more energy it’ll take. So even the urban Chinese may use less energy per person than the urban Aussies and Americans.

    Nonetheless, in China and other developing countries, they really are like two countries in terms of their wealth and energy use. And that’s something for us to bear in mind. They need two different sets of solutions; though perhaps not so different in the end…

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