WRI established its China office in 2007. We work with leaders in business, government, and civil society to address climate change, transport, and water risk issues. Learn more about our work in China. Visit the WRI China website.
WASHINGTON— China’s pollution and emissions challenges have been making headlines, but China’s leaders are taking action to respond. While some U.S. policy makers are using China’s pollution as an excuse for U.S. inaction, there are also emerging signals that China can make progress on its pollution challenges.
What is the reality? Is China heading in a new direction?
Chinese emissions trading pilots emerge as environmental and climate issues reach the top of the Chinese agenda. The authors discuss emissions trading in China, from the field. Editor's note: This blog post was originally posted on ChinaFAQs.
China’s main policy-making body, the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC), adopted a groundbreaking policy this year to limit CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. The policy—which promotes the demonstration of carbon dioxide capture, storage, and utilization—is the first-of-its-kind in any country, and reflects WRI’s Guidelines for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), developed in partnership with Tsinghua University, China.
World energy use is estimated to increase by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040, with half of the increase attributed to China and India alone. In addition, 76 percent of new coal-fired power plants will be located in these two countries. Shifting to a much-needed, low-carbon economy requires that these nations either rely on more efficient and renewable sources of energy or find ways to manage the greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Our Guidelines for CCS in China were issued at a time when CCS was not a high priority within the Chinese administration. Yet we remained determined to continue actively engaging with experts and bringing our expertise to the table.
In collaboration with Tsinghua University, WRI began an early stakeholder effort to discuss guidelines for CCS in China. We convened leaders from China’s state-owned enterprises with NDRC officials and academics to develop the guidelines. This was perhaps the first time coal, oil, and electricity sectors ever met to discuss whether and how CCS would proceed in China. The group also traveled together on CCS study tours in 2009 and 2010, maintaining engagement with the Chinese government during these trips. This process contributed significantly toward the NDRC adopting a policy to promote demonstration of CCS and incorporating many aspects of the Tsinghua-WRI Guidelines.
NDRC’s adoption of the policy has created strong support for CCS projects within China. China has 11 large-scale, integrated CCS projects in the planning stages. On top of this, four large-scale, integrated pilots are already operating or in the construction stages. This type of leadership can not only inform other CCS practices and standards throughout the world, it can boost collaboration—particularly with the United States.
Borrowing major themes from our guidelines, the policy also promotes environmental standards and includes public engagement. It lays the groundwork for testing a variety of different technologies and, more importantly, phases out the use of naturally occurring CO2. The NDRC and other relevant ministries have since focused on the incorporation and implementation of the policy—a critical next step in scaling up this outcome.
Confronted with a cooling economy and global headlines declaring an "Airpocalypse", China faces challenges on multiple fronts. While many people are quick to point out the hurdles, the reality is that its leaders are moving ahead with significant policy measures and reforms. If successful, these actions will not only help drive China's economic development, they will address another mounting threat: climate change.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms the risks of climate change and humans' central role in it. China is no less vulnerable. One-third of its coastline is highly vulnerable to rising seas that will probably lead to the relocation of coastal communities. China's agricultural production - including rice, wheat and corn - could fall dramatically within a few decades due to shifts in precipitation and soil quality. Health impacts, including malaria and other infectious diseases, are also expected to mount as global temperatures rise.
As China moves to tackle issues related to the economy, pollution and urbanisation, each carries opportunities to shift the country's emissions trajectory and make progress on climate change.
Coal is emerging as a major topic of conversation at the United Nations climate-change negotiations currently taking place in Warsaw – and rightly so. Indeed, it is a discussion that the world needs to have.
The latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conclude that we are quickly using up our carbon “budget” – the amount of carbon that we can afford to emit while still having a good chance of limiting global warming to 2º Celsius. According to the IPCC, keeping the global temperature increase from pre-industrial levels below this threshold – the recognized tipping point beyond which climate change is likely to get seriously out of control – requires that the world emit only about 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC). More than half of this amount was already emitted by 2011. Unless we shift away from carbon-intensive behavior, the remaining budget will run out in roughly three decades.
Energy and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, supported by data and analysis from WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, surveyed water risks among the world’s top energy-producing regions. They found that three energy sectors face particularly high water risks: shale gas in the United States, coal production and coal-fired power in China, and crude oil in the Middle East.