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Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday, 27 June 2011

Towards green low-carbon growth?

A conference last week in Beijing heard plans by China and other counties for achieving green low-carbon development to combat climate change.  Despite an upbeat mood, the difficulties are many and serious.

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Despite the slow progress in the global climate negotiations, some developing countries are already taking their own climate actions to reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Of course, their actions will fall far short of what is required, unless the funds and technology expected as a result from the global talks materialize.  And unless the developed countries also cut their emissions greatly and leave more “carbon space” to the developing countries.

The Chinese government organized a conference on “green low-carbon development” in Beijing on 22-24 June, bringing together international and local experts with national and provincial policy makers.

That China hosted this event itself was significant, as it is the largest developing country in both population and economic size.  It has also become one of the two largest Greenhouse Gas emitting countries in the world.

But as pointed out at the conference, China is still a middle-income developing country, ranked rather average among developing countries in both per capita income and per capita emissions.

Nevertheless, the spotlight has very much been on China, not least because its high economic growth on top of its economic weight means that what happens in the country has a significant impact on global climate change.

The conference was meant to open China’s plans for scrutiny and comments. The list of actions being planned is impressive.  As enumerated by Ms. Sun Cui Hua, Deputy Director-General of the Climate Change Department of the National Development and Reform Commission, these included ten policy areas.

The first was implementing climate change macro policies. The targets in the recently unveiled 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) include:

●          Non-fossil fuel to account for 11.4 percent of primary energy consumption;

●          Cut by 30% of water consumption per unit of value-added industrial output

●          16% reduction in energy consumption per unit of GDP. 

●          17% cut in Carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP (en route to the pledged goal of 40-45% reduction by 2020 compared to 2005).

●          Forest coverage rate to rise to 21.66 percent and forest stock to increase by 600 million cubic meters.

Not mentioned by Ms. Sun, but which will have equally important implications is the new 7% average annual GDP growth target for the 2011-15 period.  This is a reduction from the annual growth of 10-plus percent per year that China has been used to.

A cut by 3 to 4 percentage points in GDP growth will in itself mean a large reduction in emissions growth, on top of the cuts in emissions intensity of GDP.

Other policies or actions announced by Ms Sun included:

●          Establishing a fund in China to finance its climate actions.

●          Launching low-carbon pilot projects in selected cities and provinces.

●          Using market mechanisms including new conditions for enterprises, and a pilot programme on emissions trading.

●          A low carbon certification system to identify industries and products and encourage upgrading of enterprises.

●          Compiling an inventory of greenhouse gases, including building the capacity of local governments and having a guidebook for enterprises.

●          Strengthening legislation to accompany the policy measures

●          Education and campaigns for low-carbon lifestyles.

●          Strengthening international cooperation through exchanges and South-South cooperation.

●          Enacting policy measures in various sectors and improving forecasting and early warning for extreme weather events.

Italy’s Environment Ministry Director General Corrado Clini said other countries should learn from China in prioritizing low-carbon technologies.  China had become the leader in investments for low-carbon technologies, spending US$34 bil in 2010 compared to USA ($17 bil), UK ($12 bil), Spain ($11 bil), Brazil ($8 bil), Germany ($4 bil) and Canada and India ($3 bil).

Data on recent performance in China’s energy and emissions were given by Wang Zhongmin of the China Institute of Standardization, who said that energy consumption per unit of GDP fell by a total of 19% in the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-11).  Energy use per unit of copper smelting dropped 36% and per ton of cement by 29%, while backward enterprises and technologies had been closed down.

During the period, the energy conserved was more than 600 million tons of standard coal, which meant there was an accumulated reduction of carbon dioxide by over 1.5 billion tons.

Europe’s climate policy was presented by Jurgen Lefevere of the European Commission who said that the EU countries had decoupled emissions from GDP growth, as domestic emissions had fallen 16% while GDP grew 40% between 1990 and 2009.

He reiterated the EU target of 20 to 30 per cent emissions reduction by 2020 (compared to 1990) with a reduction of 80-95% by 2050 through a road map that includes emission reduction plans for various sectors, the use of key technologies and investments.

The EC had identified additional investments (needed for climate change actions) of Euro 270 bil a year in 2010-50. This would be more than offset by benefits, including fuel-saving of Euro 175-320 bil a year;  halving of imports by 2050, reducing the bill in that year by Euro 400 bil; and health benefits of Euro 88 bil a year in 2050, and 1.5 million net jobs created in 2020.

Despite the positive domestic plans by China and the message from Europe that decoupling growth and emissions is possible, experts also highlighted the huge challenges facing developing countries in reducing their emissions growth while maintaining their ambition of high economic growth.

Some developed countries had not even got their “decoupling” act together yet, as their emissions have continued to climb.

For developing countries, who also have to battle not only poverty but the increased effects of climate change (such as floods, drought and hurricanes), moving into action to cut emissions will be difficult.

This is where the global climate negotiations come in.  They have to deliver huge emission cuts in developed countries and provide sufficient funds and technologies to developing countries so that they have the atmospheric space and the resources to do their own decoupling of emissions from economic development.     

 


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