SCIO briefing on China's Policies and Actions on Climate Change

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Mr. Xie Zhenhua, the Special Representative on Climate Change of China

Hu Kaihong, vice director-general of the Press Bureau, State Council Information Office

Nov.19, 2015

Hu Kaihong (Spokesperson):

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning! Welcome to the press conference of the State Council Information Office. The 2015 UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris shortly. Today, China's Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (2015) is officially launched. To help you have a better understanding of the report on China's position and the proposals it will make to the Paris conference, we are very much honored to have Mr. Xie Zhenhua here to brief you and later take your questions. Mr. Xie is China's special representative for the climate change affairs. Now, I hand over to Mr. Xie.

Xie Zhenhua:

Friends from the Chinese and international press, good morning! I thank you very much for your concern about climate change issues, China's actions, policies and measures to tackle climate change, and especially its position in the process of international climate change. I am here today mainly to launch China's Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (2015), which contains details both on China's progress over the year and the position it plans to take at the Paris conference.

This year marks the final year of China's Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-15) and we are delighted to see the progress that has been made in tackling climate change. Here are some principal data I'd like to share with you. As of 2014, carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit nationwide dropped 6.1 percent year on year, and have declined 15.8 percent since 2010. This shows we have achieved the goal of 17-percent reduction required in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan.

During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, the consumption of non-fossil fuels accounted for 11.2 percent of total use, up 4.4 percentage points since 2005. There isn't any problem to meet the 11.4-percent requirement in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan as we continuously seek to optimize the energy consumption structure. Also, compared with 2005, the forest coverage has increased by 2.188 billion cubic meters, far exceeding our previous promise of 1.5 billion cubic meters expansion.

Pilot projects to build low-carbon cities, industrial parks and communities are being carried out in anorderly way. Seven carbon emission trading centers are all online now. These achievements show we are gradually expanding our ability to deal with climate change. Across society, awareness of low-carbon development and the capability of making that happen have both risen remarkably. It is fair to say that China has made important contributions to mitigating global climate change. Last June, the Chinese government submitted a report on China's voluntary actions regarding post-2020 climate change to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The report contains the detailed objectives and missions for China in the period so I am not going to repeat them here.

Now I will be happy to take your questions.

Hu Kaihong:

Thank you, Mr. Xie. The floor is open. As usual, please identify yourself and the media outlet you represent before asking a question.

China Daily:

The Paris conference is the focus of much public attention. Although the report has clearly stated China's position, we'd still like you to tell us about your expectations for the summit. As for the 2015 global agreement, what points should be reached? What is more, the revision of coal data was already released to the public at home, but recently some media keep on reporting it. So, there are doubts about whether the data have been underestimated. Could you please explain it?

Xie Zhenhua:

The United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11, including the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), and the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The main purpose of the conference is to reach an agreement on strengthening the actions in response to climate change after 2020. Now, various countries have launched multiple rounds of negotiations focusing on the expected achievements of the Paris conference. I just came back from Paris recently, having attended the ministerial meeting of the conference of the Parties to the Convention. Judging by the preparatory meeting, the attitudes of all the countries are active and constructive, but there are still disputes, some of them important ones. We hope that the conference will achieve the following. First, 160 countries have now submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to the secretariat of the Convention, although more countries need to do so. Overall, every country is taking action in response to global climate change, which is good progress.

Second, we hope that the outcome of this conference will be that, by adhering to and following the basic principles of the Convention, we can implement the basic principles of the Convention and strengthen global actions. We hope that a strong, ambitious, and legally binding agreement can be reached in Paris. However, we think that the basic principles of the Convention should be followed, and negotiations should proceed within the framework of the Convention, and eventually this result can be achieved. Actions in response to climate change should fully reflect the principle of fairness, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and the principal of respective capabilities that take each country's actual conditions into account. All the countries should reach a consensus accordingly, and this is a very important concern for us.

Besides, to make this conference successful and to ensure it reaches an agreement, political mutual trust must be established. The consensus achieved in past negotiations, conventions and protocols must be seriously implemented. Every country must honor the promises they have made, which is the basis and action needed to establish that political mutual trust. For example, the developed countries should take the lead in cutting emissions on a big scale according to requirements in the conventions and protocols, and provide financial and technical support for developing countries. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) also suggested clearly that the developed countries should at least reduce emissions by 25 - 40 percent by 2020, compared to 1990. And the developed countries have promised they will provide financial support of US$100 billion per year for the developing countries before 2020, and will set up a technologies transfer mechanism. We hope these promises are implemented in order to ensure political mutual trust. We hope the outcome of the Paris conference can inspire or encourage or demand every country to transform their development approaches and lifestyles. And all of them should adopt the green and low-carbon fashion. What I mean is that every country wants to have development, but it must be coordinated with dealing with climate change. The only way is to realize the green and low-carbon development. If a consensus like this can be achieved in the agreement, the conference will be a milestone.

We hope this conference could be a success, and every country can do their best in this regard. The Chinese government has paid great attention to issues concerning climate change. We have made our promises and set our goals. Though they seemed difficult, it now appears that we have accomplished them. We have done a lot of work in the multilateral mechanism, and we will continue to make positive and constructive efforts in the whole negotiation. Our leaders, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, have attached importance to actions against climate change and they have exchanged ideas with leaders of other countries to push ahead with the whole multilateral process.

This year, China and the United States, China and France, China and India, China and Brazil, as well as China and Europe all issued their separate joint statements. These statements seek to find ways to resolve some significant differences before the Paris conference. It should be mentioned that the Chinese government has made positive and constructive efforts in the multilateral process. Besides, China has also strengthened its communications with other developing countries. Ministers from BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) have issued a joint statement, while the developing countries with similar stances also enhance their communications. In the G77 + China summit we have also strengthened the internal communication and coordination on issues concerning climate change. Now China has smooth communication channels with all the countries and blocs, and that significantly indicates that we have made positive and constructive efforts in the multilateral process.

In addition, it was mentioned just now that China's data about coal has increased a bit compared to the data published earlier. You should see it as the very clear indication that China is doing its best to deal with climate change issues and increase the transparency of its data. Now, the data is more precise. This is mainly because, due to the third economic census, we made further adjustments after reviewing new data from every aspect such as economy and energy areas. I think the adjustments are more truthful and more transparent. In the INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) that China has submitted, we have demonstrated and considered the possible adjustments on coal and energy data derived from the third economic census. So, the contents in the INDC will not be affected, and our promises will not be influenced either. We will seriously implement the INDC we have published. I believe, through our efforts, those goals can be achieved. Thank you.

U.S. National Public Radio:

How to unify the seven pilot carbon emission trading programs that you have just mentioned into a state-level program? Besides, in my personal view, despite the increasing awareness of the pollution, the Chinese people pay little attention to climate change creating global warming. Would you please explain the reason behind that and what is your plan to tackle this problem?

Xie Zhenhua:

China has already pushed forward seven pilot carbon emission trading programs that are running smoothly as all the transactions are online with little price fluctuations, as was stated in the Report. However, instead of paying attention to the carbon price, we attach greater importance to building a market mechanism for carbon trading through the pilot trading platforms. There are actually a lot of issues to be dealt with, such as, how to fix an aggregate volume, how to distribute quotas, how to check the trade and emission volumes before transactions. Those which have been scrutinized in the pilot programs are in need of more accurate and scientific calculation because there is money involved in the transactions.

To work with those pilot programs, we issued "Measures on the Management of Carbon Emission Transactions" providing guidance on checking the previous emission levels, the calculation of total emissions and quota distribution as well as the agenda and measures for examining the transaction process. Besides, we are now studying how to legislate for unified carbon emission transactions. When those preparations are completed, the conditions for a unified carbon emission market will be mature. With our continuous efforts in the past few years, a state-level carbon market is slated to be launched in 2017.

There are a number of countries and regions, such as the local governments of the United States, the European Union and several neighboring nations, hoping to work with China to create a unified carbon market. Therefore, we are willing to expand cooperation, exchange experiences and learn lessons from them. For example, we have good cooperation with some major countries in the EU from which we have learned experiences and lessons from their carbon markets.

Presently, both the experiences and lessons of the carbon market in the EU are worth learning. For example, their carbon price has dived from 30 Euros to only two to three. Why? The quotas have been overly distributed and the force to reduce emissions is insufficient, both of which resulted in a sluggish market in the entire region.

When we are shaping the carbon market in China, we have learned the lessons so that we are able to regulate our market in a better and more orderly way. The carbon market in China is expected to be initiated in 2017.

Climate change, environmental protection and air pollution stem from the same reasons. China now suffers from severe air pollution, especially smog. To tackle the problem, the State Council enacted ten measures, and they were proved to be very effective. That was why we saw the so-called "parade blue" and "APEC blue." Why were the measures so effective? Because we discovered the root of the problem and we developed solutions accordingly. We are determined to solve the problem, so we will definitely do so. This will take us some time, because the problem is associated with economic, employment and social issues, but I'm sure it won't be long. We are working hard on the problem. We have made energy-saving plans, and took many measures to improve energy efficiency, adjust energy structure, increase forest carbon sinks among others. Air pollution can be tackled if these measures are implemented properly.

I know everyone here has noticed the impact of smog and air pollution, but maybe some of you are not fully aware of the influence of the global warming. Actually, all countries' understanding on this issue has changed, as it was found that the global warming had a direct bearing on hurricanes, droughts and floods. Like the rest of the countries in the world, China has gained a deeper understanding on climate change in the past decade. We have taken a series of measures to tackle the problem. These measures were supported by local governments, entrepreneurs, non-government organizations and the general public. We have noticed these changes. Thank you.

China National Radio:

Could you brief us on how you completed the task of cutting down carbon emissions per unit of GDP in the first six months of this year? What measures have you taken? Will you meet the final goal of cutting down carbon intensity by 40 to 50 percent by 2020?

Xie Zhenhua:

You can find all the data, measures and achievements in the report, so to save our time, I won't engage in any repetition here. Thank you.

Legal Evening News:

I read from the prologue of the report that China submitted its INDC to the UNFCCC Secretariat in the first half of this year. We announced that our carbon dioxide emission would reach the cap by 2030, and we would try to meet the target earlier. How difficult is that? What should we do? Thank you.

Xie Zhenhua:

China's INDC is a package of proposals, including both mitigation and adaptation targets, and our position and goals concerning climate change. We have announced that our carbon dioxide emission would reach the cap by 2030, and we would try to meet the target earlier. Besides, by 2030, we will try to cut carbon intensity -- the amount emitted per unit of economic output -- by 60 to 65 percent below the 2005 level, increase the share of non-fossil fuels as part of primary energy consumption to about 20 percent, and increase forestry wood stock to 4.5 billion cubic meters. These are some of our mitigation targets.

When it comes to adaptation, unlike other countries that have rarely talked about it in their INDCs, China has addressed this aspect properly. First, we will improve the early warning system; second, we have a set of disaster prevention and reduction measures; third, we will enhance our climate-related infrastructure construction, and additionally, we have issued a corresponding strategy for improving our capabilities. In our INDC, we have not only set out the target, but also formulated the related policies and concrete engineering measures. Our INDC is a responsible, practical and viable plan, which is quite different from other countries.

To deliver on target, we have to save energy and improve energy efficiency, because we still lag behind the advanced countries in terms of energy consumption. Generally, our consumption is 1.9 times their level. This leaves a large space for improvement. However, we have also made considerable achievements. We adopted some measures in energy conservation and emission reduction over the last decade. According to the World Bank, China has contributed 52 percent of the world's energy conservation in a period of some 20 years. Taking into account the energy we recently saved, the figure will definitely be higher. We have great potential in this area.

Another measure is to transform the energy structure. Coal accounted for 66 percent of China's entire energy consumption last year, and the target set for the 12th five-year plan period (2011-2015) is 65 percent. Non-fossil energy accounts for 11.2 percent of energy consumption now. The target for the 12th five-year plan period, the year 2020 and the year 2030 is respectively 11.4 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent. The international community generally felt it would be difficult for China to meet the targets, and I agreed. However, China has made significant progress in recent years. In the past five years, it has accounted for 25 percent of global installed renewable energy, and 37 to 40 percent of new installation in 2013 and 2014.This is rapid development in switching to renewable energy. China's sizable renewable energy also helps reduces the cost of wind and photovoltaic power generation -- about 50 percent according to an estimate of the International Energy Agency. These constitute China's contribution to combating climate change and developing renewable energy. Besides, in order to increase forest carbon sink, China needs to plant more trees to absorb more carbon dioxide.

In the report of the 18th CPC National Congress, it was made clear that China should build a sound ecology and promote green, low-carbon, circular development. All the aforementioned measures were developed to tackle climate change and protect nature, so as to achieve sustainable national development. Thank you.

Bloomberg News:

My question is how do you expect the agreement to be reached at the Paris conference? What kind of influences will the U.S.-China Joint Announcement have on the agreement to be reach in Paris? What kind of agreement can we expect to see?

Xie Zhenhua:

We hope that the Paris conference can hammer out a legally binding agreement to implement the Convention and enhance the actions of each country. As I have mentioned, the agreement should be in line with basic rules of the Convention and principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, respective capabilities and fairness. The U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change has clarified that different national circumstances should be taken into consideration and the agreement at the Lima conference reflected that point and the above-mentioned principles. In addition, we need to factor the principles into elements of mitigation, adaptation, funding, available technology, capacity building, transparency, and action, and establish framework mechanisms. Under the framework, every country can take effective action. We hope the agreement not only sticks to the principles of the Convention but also factors them into all elements and implements them. However, right now, there is still some divergence on how to factor the principles into all the elements specifically during negotiations. I believe, as the negotiations proceed, each country will play a constructive role, take a more flexible attitude and reach a consensus in the final stage of the conference. The attendance of state leaders this time will give a political impulse into negotiations. With joint efforts from each state, I believe the conference will succeed and many problems will be resolved at the conference. Now, developing countries are mostly concerned about two points. First, whether the principles can be adhere to or not, and second, whether the pledges of funding and technological support from developed countries can be fulfilled. Those issues are key to the success of the conference and the agreement and also serve as the manifestation and basis of political trust. I believe those problems will be settled as the negotiations proceed. The state leaders of China and the United States issued their Joint Announcement on Climate Change November last year and September this year. The two announcements put forward measures on how to resolve the problems I have mentioned. The Joint Announcement last year helped break a deadlock at the Lima conference, which concluded with some real achievements. As China issued separate joint announcements with the United States, France, the EU, India and Brazil this year, we hope that all the governments, especially the efforts by the state leaders planning to attend the conference, can make outstanding and special contributions. The U.S.-China Joint Presidential Announcement on Climate Change has been highly commended by both sides and also the international community. Thank you.

Beijing TV Station:

My question is about energy saving in transportation, especially new-energy vehicles running on electricity. Many auto owners still have concerns over battery performance and charging as well as safety. What are the difficulties for promoting the new-energy vehicle at present? Are there any new measures to take in this respect?

Xie Zhenhua:

I mentioned earlier that energy saving, as one of the measures taken to deal with climate change, improves energy efficiency. One of the important measures is to save energy in the sectors of industry, construction, transportation and services so as to promote greater efficiency. As industrialization and urbanization go deeper, especially the proportion of urbanization that is now occurring in China, emissions in construction and transportation may increase. It is vital to use some new energy for energy saving as well as energy efficiency improvement in transportation and it plays an ever more important role in emission reduction. We will make great efforts in energy saving in construction and transportation during the process of urbanization, especially during the period of the "Thirteenth Five-Year Plan." Energy saving in transportation involves the following aspects: First, public transport must grow rapidly. The development of public transport, subways and inter-city railways will help reduce emissions dramatically. Second, new-energy autos should be promoted. Now, sales of new-energy autos are growing very fast in China and some cities lead the world in electric car usage, which is a very good sign. However, more innovation is needed in technology related to electric auto batteries as the battery life needs to improve. Besides, there are some problems about the charging posts, which will be coordinated and resolved in the future plan. I believe measures on energy saving and energy efficiency, either technically or economically, are being taken not only in urban transport, but also in aviation and navigation. Thus, there is great potential in the transportation sector. Thank you.

Hong Kong Commercial Radio:

You mentioned several times about divergences that could emerge at the Paris conference, could you illustrate that?

Xie Zhenhua:

The main divergence would be how to embody the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Until now, no country openly opposes this principle, which is good. We hope we can go beyond theory and put it into practice. Take emission reduction for example: according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries should, based on their historical responsibility, development phases, ability and level of development, implement economy-wide, absolute quantified emission reduction targets, and achieve targets of at least 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. This target has not been achieved yet. Developing countries should take actions based on financial and technological support from developed countries.

In the Paris agreement, such differences create a need for more innovation. As for China, we will implement economy-wide, relative quantified emission reduction, and have already announced our emission reduction target in the peak year. Every country has its particular ecological situation, infrastructure and capacity, which affects their adaptation level. However, on the whole, developed countries have relatively strong adaptive capability. Currently, lots of developing countries have no biogas systems, not to mention measures for disaster prevention and reduction. Thus, the priority is to help them improve their adaptive capability.

The divergence in funding aspect is very clear. According to the Convention, developed countries, based on different historical responsibilities, development levels and capabilities, should provide adequate financial resources to developing countries. The goal is providing US$100 billion per year by 2020, which is far from being achieved. After receiving financial support, developing countries should improve their capability as soon as possible and then take active steps. China has already established a South-South Cooperation Fund. In the past three years, the fund has spent 410 million yuan (US$64.3 million) helping more than 20 countries in emission reduction, efficiency improvement, and new energy development; and carrying out training programs for over 1,000 officials from more than 120 countries. China is trying its best to help other developing countries, but that is completely different from developed countries being required to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations.

For the issue concerning technology, according to the Convention, developed countries should provide low-carbon, energy-saving and environmental protection technology to developing countries, but that issue has not been resolved yet either.

We should improve transparency in dealing with climate change, which is a basis for establishing mutual trust. However, a considerable number of developing countries rely on developed countries to help them develop a capability in statistics, monitoring and verification. In regard to these aspects, the differences between developing and developed countries on historical responsibility, capability and development level should be clarified. Meanwhile, we should cooperate with each other and work to deal with climate change. We hope the final agreement can resolve those divergences and achieve such a goal. Thank you.


I have two questions about the Paris Climate Change Conference. Will it be affected by the recent terrorist attacks? Will China take further actions or will there be any form of compromise to make the conference successful? Will China's climate target be changed or not?

Xie Zhenhua:

After the terrorist attacks, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister and chairman of the Paris Climate Change Conference, said it would be held as scheduled. This year's climate summit is a very important international event with great meaning for international cooperation to combat climate change. As I have said, we hope the conference will be a milestone in combating global climate change, which makes it very important. It is the common desire of people all around the world to see positive results and solid agreements at the summit. The Chinese delegation has been formed and we had a preparatory meeting yesterday. The delegation is well prepared. We will attend the summit as planned. We hope that all countries work together to make it a success.

China will, under any circumstances, fulfill its INDC pledge. The Chinese government and the Chinese people will keep their word. Once we make a promise and set a target, we will carry it through no matter what challenges we face. We will not change our target for whatever reasons.

Maybe what you really want to ask is, will China pledge to do more? Actually, the target we have set is the result of a two-year analysis factoring in all socio-economic sectors and all aspects. It is scientific and it is mature. So, we have confidence we can attain our target. However, if we raise our target, we have to make additional efforts. First of all, there must be technological innovation, without which it is very hard to change our goals. So, we hope to establish a motivational mechanism to drive global efforts. The key is technological innovation once the target is set. It is very difficult to raise our target if we just make use of traditional technologies to deal with climate change independently. Therefore, it is very important for developed countries to provide money, technological support and technology transfers. We will not change our target in this regard, but we will try to do more. Just as I have said, we will achieve our target by around 2030. With efforts, we will peak emissions as early as possible. That's what we are working hard to achieve. Thank you.

China Radio International:

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is formulating the outline on the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) after the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee approved proposals on it. What plans does the Chinese government have on green, low-carbon development?

Xie Zhenhua:

In the 18th CPC National Congress, the Party decided to promote innovation on five development concepts, including green, innovative development. The State Council also issued a document on improving the ecological system, saying that efforts should be made to achieve green, low-carbon, and circular development. Some of the tasks set in the 12th Five-Year (2011-2015) Plan have already been completed, and we will continue to promote green, low-carbon development in the next five years.

Now, we are researching and assessing specific requirements and measures to be included in the 13th Five-Year Plan. We are trying to implement the proposals made at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, especially those on institutional and policy innovation. We will also enhance technological innovation to complete the various tasks in this field.

I'm sure green, low-carbon development will receive enough attention in the 13th Five-Year Plan, and we are working to ensure this. Thank you.

Hu Kaihong:

Last question.

China Report:

I have two questions. First, China has proposed the "Belt and Road Initiative," and I want to ask whether China intends to cooperate with countries along the "Belt and Road," especially those on the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, to tackle climate change. Will we provide financial assistance to the construction of coastal defenses among other infrastructure projects?

Second, amid China's call to vigorously develop clean energy, recent years have seen some PV manufacturers such as Suntech Power face difficulties. How do you suggest we avoid overcapacity in the clean energy sector due to excessively rapid development?

Xie Zhenhua:

Cooperation in regard to the "Belt and Road" will be increasingly connected with responses to climate change. For example, in our overseas aid or cooperation, such as the infrastructure development, we should fully consider making it low-carbon. In so doing, we are perfecting their infrastructure while meeting their low-carbon targets. We will pay more attention to this in the future.

Seeing that China is developing green finance, other countries all seek to stress green, low-carbon requirements in their cooperation, especially economic cooperation, with China. This trend will gradually become more prominent. In our cooperation with other developing countries, we should consider improving their adaptability to climate change; this is our primary concern in future South-South cooperation. We should help other developing countries to raise their abilities in early warning and forecasting, risk reduction and prevention, infrastructure construction, and how to actively respond to climate change, particularly extreme climatic conditions.

It is certainly an important sector we should consider, and one that will combine the shaping of the "Belt and Road" and the improvement of other developing countries' response to climate change.

As to the development of the PV industry in China, this sector of renewable energy is developing rather fast with technology upgrading. We have a large PV sector. It is fair to say that PV products made in China occupy quite a large share in the global market. As one of the major contributions, China has greatly lowered the costs of the PV industry as well as that of renewable energy as a whole. In their development, some enterprises may have expanded recklessly. But perfecting market standards and helping enterprises become more mature will solve such issues eventually.

In my negotiations with the United States and the European Union, I noted that although everyone encourages the development of renewable energy sources, they launch anti-monopoly probes against the Chinese PV industry. Whether they admit it or not, the Chinese PV industry has made huge contributions to these countries and to the entire world in that we lowered the cost and raised the technology. They had to admit this fact.

Hu Kaihong:

This is the end of the press conference. Thank you, Mr. Xie, and thank you all.

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