China is poised to become the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Together, China and the U.S. account for close to half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Until the two nations take action, the world cannot make significant progress in slowing global warming. China was a big topic at the recent international climate negotiations in Bali and will be an issue in any Congressional climate debate. Will China lead or lag this coming year when it comes to dealing with climate change?
The Chinese knew five years ago they faced energy-security problems. They’re not a major oil producer – and their energy needs are increasing rapidly. One hundred new coal-fired power plants come on line each year and they’re also building nuclear power plants. They do have a vigorous energy-efficiency program.
China faces increasing domestic pressures because of localized pollution which the government has acknowledged and is trying to address. The supply of water in China per person is about one-ninth of the average worldwide. As a major emitter and a major seller into world markets, the Chinese will face increasing international pressures, particularly supply-chain pressures. Large entities that purchase products from China will begin to insist that manufacturing process take CO2 emissions into account. Look for this pressure to heat up in 2008.
The Chinese certainly recognize that tomorrow’s markets will be carbon-constrained and that there will be a huge and growing demand for low-carbon products. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
During the Olympics this summer, the focus of the world will be on Beijing for three weeks. The Chinese are taking extraordinary steps to control air pollution during the games. The government is negotiating agreements with surrounding industries to temporarily close down in order to assure that the air is clean. Nearly 50 percent of the air pollution in Beijing at some points is due to construction; it’s a very fast-growing city. The government has already imposed a construction slow-down, which will take effect in the spring. The Olympics most certainly will draw attention to China and to how China is engaging the international community on a variety of issues.
The Chinese face an important choice. They are a great power and they will have to decide — in the international negotiations and in their approach to climate change — whether they want to be leaders in helping solve the problem. I think the decision will become clearer around the time of the Olympics, when one of the U.N. climate negotiating sessions leading up to the Poznan meeting will take place.