The carbon battle

By Liu Yunyun in Warsaw, Poland
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 22, 2013
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"If not me, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?" Su Wei, a leading Chinese climate negotiator, posted in a call for action on WeChat, a social networking tool.

Su is the deputy chief of the Chinese delegation to the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Director General of Climate Change at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). This year's conference ran from November 11 to 22 in Warsaw, Poland.

The conclusion that human activity is responsible for climate change has been further strengthened in the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The global impact of climate change has become increasingly prominent, posing perhaps the most severe challenge to our planet.

Though an overwhelming consensus has been reached in the international community that a warming planet will bring more natural disasters, debates over whether and how mankind should take action have never ceased to exist.

At this year's conference, Japan said it plans to scale back its emission targets citing the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, which forced it to close 50 of its nuclear power plants. Australia, however, as a long-time dissenter in climate talks, is reportedly set to repeal carbon tax and dismantle all climate institutions and initiatives.

Su said he was disappointed beyond words when the two countries made their announcements, crying out for countries to unite and work together for the sake of the environment.

Key agenda

Asking developed countries to honor their commitments and provide capital assistance and environmentally-friendly technology transfers to developing countries has remained a major point of dispute at this year's conference.

"Finance is key to the success of the Warsaw conference," agreed high-level officials of BASIC (China, Brazil, South Africa and India) at a seminar held at the China Pavilion in Warsaw on November 20.

They urged developed countries to follow their obligations to provide US$100 billion each year to developing countries in order to help fund their efforts to cope with issues related to climate change in a measurable and verifiable manner for the period between 2013 and 2020.

Developed countries, while taking morally high road in their climate rhetoric, are in fact reluctant to provide assistance. The recent financial crisis has further hardened their resistance over the issue, warned Chinese experts.

Tod Stern, special envoy for climate change for the U.S. Government, said in terms of providing funding for developing countries, the United States would like to invite the private sector to join the initiatives. "It could be a loan, it could be a loan guarantee, it could be risk insurance," said Stern in a press conference held in Washington, D.C. on November 9.

As a response, Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation at this year's Warsaw climate conference, insisted the funding come from the governments or the public sector, instead of the private sector.

China in action

"Honestly, China is the biggest producer of greenhouse gases," admitted Xie. "There is no need to deny it."

China is deeply concerned about excess carbon emissions and climate change, not because of external forces, but because of its inner desire to create a clean and healthy environment, Xie said.

The toxic air and polluted water pose a major threat to people's well-being. The worst smog episodes witnessed in most parts of northern China served as a wake-up call for Chinese citizens and officials.

In a top-level decision made at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which closed on November 12, the Chinese government vowed to keep a close eye on environmental protection matters and make legislative efforts to monitor and control air, land and water pollution.

"I heard about the mention that carbon trading is a priority and as a U.S. citizen I can only dream that our national government would make such a statement at one of our policy platforms," said Derek Walker, associate vice president with the Environmental Defense Fund. He urged the U.S. federal government to work prospectively and aggressively on climate change policies that will make a difference in people's lives.

Though China is now the second largest economy in the world, the average wealth of its 1.3 billion population fails to match its prominent international status. In 2012, China's per-capita GDP was registered at US$6,000, ranking 87th in the world. The current challenges facing China include the task of developing its economy, eradicating poverty and improving people's lives while actively confronting the threats brought about by climate change.

"We have nowhere to go if we don't tackle the problems of climate change," said Xie.

To promote the concept of carbon reduction and raise citizens' awareness of climate change, China is expected to launch five pilot carbon trade centers across the country by the end of this year, said Xie. They are places where companies with fewer carbon emissions can sell their excess pollution quota to heavy polluting companies.

Matthew Rodriquez, Californian secretary for Environmental Protection, said he was deeply impressed by the Chinese government's efficiency in launching carbon trade systems. "While it takes California six years to get started, it's taking Chinese provinces and government six months to get started. That's a remarkable achievement."

China pledged to cut carbon emissions by 40-45 percent in 2020, compared with that of 2005, and the proportion of non-fossil fuels will account for 15 percent of all energies used in the country. Xie said the target is ambitious because the development of hydropower and nuclear energy has been stalled in China. Nevertheless, he reassured China would employ all measures to attain these goals.

The conference in Warsaw serves as a prelude to several conferences over the next two years to be held in Lima of Peru in 2014, and Paris of France in 2015.

Xie expected this climate conference to be able to reach an agreement that "could be accepted by all parties - which they might not necessarily be happy about."


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