China Environmental Law

A discussion of China’s environmental and energy laws, regulations, and policies

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August 17th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I think I liked it better when China wasn’t talking about an emissions peak.  I had constructed my own fantasy world where China’s emissions topped out around 2030, plus or minus five years, having grown by only 15 to 20% from today’s levels.

My fantasy world was shattered by Su Wei, Director-General of the Office of the National Leading Group on Climate Change within the NDRC, who announced on Friday that “China’s emissions will not continue to rise beyond 2050.”  2050!  He didn’t provide any level of emissions, but if 2050 is the peak year, I suspect they are using models that show at least double the level of current emissions.  There are plenty of other models out there by China government think tanks that have spun scenarios for much earlier peaks 1, but Su Wei did not rely on them or their more aggressive carbon reduction scenarios.

This could simply be a negotiation ploy, a “I’ll commit suicide and take you with me unless you fork over the money and technology I need to reduce my emissions” approach.  Less cynically, China could be floating 2050 as its “business as usual” peak, and then it will propose, by a series of low carbon strategies to be announced between now and December, a course of action which will allow it to reach its peak earlier at a lower level of emissions increase.

I hope it’s the later, but the signs for that scenario are not encouraging.  Remember that massive second stimulus package designed to put China on the path of developing a low carbon economy that was to have been announced in July?  It’s OK if you don’t remember it because it didn’t happen, and it looks like it won’t happen now.  In its stead, China is talking about announcing a plan (stimulus is never used as an adjective with this plan) that will

step up policies aimed at curtailing emissions growth. Under the country’s current five-year plan, which runs until 2010, the government set a target of reducing energy intensity by 20 per cent. The next five-year plan would include more far-reaching and specific targets to reduce carbon intensity, Mr Su said.

No “radical programmes,” however, are under consideration.  That’s too bad because we need radical programs now.

A carbon intensity target would be nice, but as many have pointed out China’s energy intensity goal also helps to reduce carbon intensity, so a carbon intensity goal will need to be structured to be incremental to, not simply coextensive with, the energy use per unit of production goal.  Furthermore, it must be set at an aggressive level.  As the McKinsey study, “China’s Green Revolution,” has pointed out, if China continues to grow at an annual GDP growth rate of 7.8%,

  • AND continues to meet its aggressive energy intensity reduction goals,
  • AND installs all the renewable energy called for its current medium- & long-term renewable energy plan,
  • AND achieves a 4.8% annual growth rate in carbon efficiency,

it will more than double its 2005 carbon emissions by 2030. (6.8 Gigatons of CO2e vs. 14.5 Gigatons of CO2e).

No timetable has been given for when the new carbon plan will be introduced, but some are saying it won’t be until the end of the year.  That, of course, is too late.

Even if it were earlier, it would still only be a domestic goal which is not internationally measurable, reportable, and verifiable.  We still have that negotiating hurdle to cross.

I’m going back into my fantasy world now because things are not looking too hopeful in the real one.

  1. Reuters creates a story today around a “new” report on “open sale” in China which addresses potential peaks, but fails to mention that the results of this report have been publicly available since at least March of this year

Tags: US-China relations · carbon emissions · climate change

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Frank Woo // Aug 18, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Well, the plastic bag rule is growing popular downtown in the big cities, though.

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