China Environmental Law

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

China Environmental Law header image 2

“Low” Carbon?

August 18th, 2009 · 6 Comments

Reuters has prepared a nice graphic of the three emissions scenarios considered in a recently published report by a panel from the National Development and Reform Commission and the Development Research Center of the State Council.  The panel has previewed its findings a number of times over the past several months, but has now formally published them in 2050 China Energy and CO2 Emissions Report. Feast your eyes on a climate death sentence:

There is no guarantee that the Chinese government will translate any of the report’s recommendations into domestic action or policy, much less make them part of its Copenhagen negotiation strategy, but the disturbing fact is that there is no chance, let me repeat that, NO CHANCE, China will agree to any scenario better that the “Enhanced Low Carbon” approach, and that isn’t good enough.

I base my “no chance” assessment on the simple fact that China’s top leadership will only commit to actions that have been thoroughly studied and for which costs have been estimated.  This is the only purely domestic effort (there have been a few private studies: McKinsey’s “China’s green revolution” and the UK’s Tyndall Centre China’s Energy Transition: Pathways for Low Carbon Development) that has studied the issue and estimated costs; its conclusions, therefore, will inform and guide public policy to the extent China is inclined to budge from its current “no limits” official position.

In the best case scenario (which I still consider to be extremely unlikely), sometime between now and whenever a Copenhagen deal is struck (which could be after the December meeting itself) , China will put in place or signal commitment to actions that will allow it to embark upon the “Low Carbon” path. China will demand significant concessions in terms of money and technology transfers to get it to the “Enhanced Low Carbon” path.  Of course, there is no way those will be forthcoming from the US, especially given the relentless drumbeat from some sectors that China is beating the US in the cleantech race.

Let’s assume by some miracle China does pursue the “Enhanced Low Carbon” path without strings attached.  Look at the numbers and tell me how we get to an 80% reduction in global emissions in 2050?  We don’t. The Cost of Energy Blog has run the numbers, using all the favorite base years.  Can anyone suggest how we reach a 450, much less a 350, ppm world with those kinds of emissions levels from China?

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

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jon // Aug 19, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Hasn’t China basically given up on mitigating its CO2 emissions profile and basically said that people need to accept climate change and learn how to adapt to it?

  • 2 Frank Woo // Aug 19, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    So I see I agree with Jon. It should be accepted.

  • 3 Greg // Aug 20, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Climate change is becoming a mega industry. I’m at World Water Week in Stockholm at an insurance industry talk on micro-insurance for the developing world.

    I am shocked and appalled.

  • 4 cmcelwee // Aug 20, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Greg, Sorry I didn’t get back to you, but as you can see, I’m not in Stockholm. It be great to hear more about what’s going on there.

  • 5 Greg // Aug 25, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Like I said Charlie, shocked and appalled. The UN backed NGOs create a culture of addiction in which they take over the health and human services sector of countries, thus those countries never learn how to make do for themselves and the NGOs pull in more tax payer and donation money to do “good work”. Lots of disgruntled ministry people from Africa and S. Asia. No debating was allowed, the NGOs ran everything like clockwork, lots of multi-stakeholder dialogue to develop frameworks to construct consensus about future multi-stakeholder dialogue, and so on and so forth.

    Shoot me an email, I got more.

  • 6 Greg // Aug 25, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    You can also contact Rami Abdelrahman for the indy press view of the event at:

Leave a Comment