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China could lead the fight for a cooler climate

China may have become the default excuse for inaction by western politicians and idle citizens, says Jonathon Porritt, but its contradictions may even now help it lead in fighting climate change.

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If nothing else, as we move into the final months of the Bush Administration, one has to admit that he has got a good sense of humour. After nearly seven years of applied process-wrecking intransigence on climate change (as dummy to Dick Cheney’s virtuoso ventriloquism), US president George W. Bush has now offered himself to the world as the only global leader who can rescue us from climate meltdown. Both Al Gore and Bill Clinton (whose Climate Change Initiative is beginning to get some real traction, especially with city mayors around the world) must be quaking in their boots at the prospects of “Bring-it-on-Bush” challenging them for star billing in the climate change leadership stakes.

To be fair, it is more or less consistent with what he was saying when he was still in complete denial on climate change and its potential impacts. What was deemed sacrosanct even then is the American way of life and the US role in the global economy. Nothing – not even a potential 3 degree Celsius average temperature increase by the end of the century – must be allowed to jeopardise that over-arching imperative.

So what he is now offering by way of climate change leadership is to act as an advocate for “mega-fixes”: geo-engineering on a global scale to ensure we avoid climate-induced catastrophe without having to change our current behaviour in any one single particular.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are already being invested in such mega-fixes. Some favour messing around in space, positioning vast parabolic mirrors in outer space to reflect back large amounts of incoming solar radiation. Others are fixated on imitating the effects of volcanic eruptions by using vast numbers of high-altitude aircraft to put sunlight-reflecting sulphuric acid droplets into the atmosphere.

A rival camp wants to fix the oceans by dumping vast amounts of iron particles into the water to stimulate blooms of plankton which will then suck the carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere before sinking down to the ocean floor to form the next aeon’s equivalent to the White Cliffs of Dover. Others just want to use bog-standard fertiliser to achieve the same effect. And no less a guru than Gaia theorist James Lovelock has weighed in with a scheme of his own, involving tens of thousands of vast pipes to bring cold water up to the surface of the ocean to speed the absorption of CO2.

Lovelock is right on one thing: if we continue to defer serious measures to address climate change (basically energy efficiency, renewables and carbon capture and storage), then we will get to that point where the only way of avoiding apocalypse – the complete disintegration of human civilisation – will be to try and mega-fix our way out of it at the very last moment: a small probability of success, inconceivably massive costs, but giving the boys with their toys their final day (literally) in the sun.

Counter-intuitively, I am much more interested in the possibility of global leadership coming not from the US but from China. At one level this is, of course, insane. Within the next few months, China will overtake the US as the world’s largest emitter of CO2.As the entire world and its dog now know, China is building one new coal-powered station a week. China is building more than 20 spanking-new international airports. China is as immodestly in love with the motorcar as are the Americans. And China’s environment is quite literally falling to pieces.

All of which means that China has become the default excuse for every procrastinating politician and idle, indifferent citizen who was never going to do anything anyway. “What’s the point, mate, with China building one new power station every minute?” Or words to that effect.

I have yet to hear a single politician mention that China is closing down more power stations than it is building, already has enormous amounts of wind power available to it, has the most aggressive expansion programme for renewable sources of energy of any country in the world, has set some extremely tough targets for improving both energy efficiency and water efficiency, and is just about the only country in the world to have done any serious legwork on introducing a better way of measuring GDP to take proper account of environmental and climate costs.

And there is much more in that particular pipeline too. Unlike our politicians (let alone our citizenry), who really don’t understand the immediacy and the seriousness of the impacts of climate change, China’s politicians absolutely get it. They are already experiencing those impacts, directly and very painfully, in terms of accelerating desertification, reductions in agricultural yields, saline incursion into key groundwater aquifers near the coast, changing patterns of precipitation, increased incidence of storms and droughts. As Dong Weng Jie, director general of the Beijing Climate Centre puts it: “Records for worst-in-a-century rainstorms, droughts and heat waves are being broken more and more often.”

A lot of this already translates into real economic costs – lost agricultural productivity, increased costs in pumping water, horrific health costs with tens of millions of people profoundly affected by both water and air pollution. Worse yet, from the perspective of the Chinese government, a lot of that pain translates straight through into rapidly rising levels of social dissent, with a significant proportion of the wave of mass disturbances in China today (more than 80,000 in 2005 according to China’s own Ministry of Public Security) attributable to protests over water, land and pollution. President Hu Jintao had another crack at the sustainability challenge in his opening address to the Communist Party Congress on October 15.

If “unsustainable” means anything, what is happening in China is just that. But unlike our leaders, China’s leaders know it. The fact that their sustainability problems go on getting worse doesn’t mean they are in denial. It’s just that the solutions can be costly, and need driving down through the party and political bureaucracies with infinitely greater purpose than is currently the case, especially as they haven’t yet managed to explain to their citizens that business-as-usual (as in 1,100 new cars on the roads of Beijing every day) just isn’t going to work. But who has?

What people forget is that China has already started to invest huge amounts of money in a whole host of clean-tech innovations – in wind, solar and hydrogen in particular. This may take a while to work its way through the system, but China has an eye as much on future export markets as on sorting out its own domestic problems. Many now believe that some of the most exciting potential breakthroughs on photovoltaics and hydrogen-powered vehicles will be coming out of China any time soon – and not out of the US.

And when you are training around 400,000 new undergraduates in engineering every year, compared to the US figure of 70,000, there is clearly going to be some kind of macro-economic strategy in place to move China on from being the “industrial workshop to the world” to much higher added-value, post-industrial production breakthroughs.

Trying to read China is massively complicated at the best of times – an aggressively capitalist system within the embrace of communism is bound to throw up an unprecedented cacophony of contradictions. So it is perfectly possible for China to be both the world’s most unsustainable and environmentally devastated nation on Earth, and the nation re-inventing the cutting edge of sustainable technological breakthroughs all at the same time.

Funnily enough, one can point to almost exactly the same set of contradictions in the US. The Bush Administration, for all its other egregious failings, has been pumping in billions of tax dollars to sustainable energy and waste projects, even as it presides over an economy that has got more wasteful and more environmentally devastating to the rest of the world year after year.

Little wonder that one apparently has to be a former politician, like Gore or Clinton, to get really serious about climate change leadership.

 

Jonathon Porritt is founder director of Forum for the Future, chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission; and author of Capitalism as if the World Matters; Revised Edition 2007 (in paperback), Earthscan – available through Forum for the Future website

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

精彩的文章

这是一篇非常精彩的文章,作者的语言魅力在其英国特有的辛辣讽刺中得到了淋漓尽致的发挥,尖锐的指出了这个常常被忽略的事实,尽管常常被政客和不明真相的人用作挡箭牌,中国正在抗起气候变化中做出巨大的努力。同时指出了中国在决策方面所面临的难以,但绝非不可调和的矛盾,从而指出了在中国问题实行简单主义的幼稚。可惜翻译略显仓促,有些原文中的精彩用词和评论没能体现出来,希望如果有条件的话译者重新修饰一下。

比如“中国每分钟都建成一个新的电站,这意味着什么?”那句本因译为“如果中国每分钟都建成一个新的电站,那我们做这些又有什么意义呢?”另外“我曾经听到一个政治家提到...”其实是“我还从没有听到一个政治家提到过”。时间和篇幅关系,不能一一列举了,希望能有机会看到更好的译文,让中国的读者更好的领会到作者的原意。

王韬 (Tao WANG) Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research & Sussex Energy Group 廷道尔气候变化研究中心和苏塞克斯能源研究小组

Fantastic

This is a wonderful article! The author's language charm has been shown completely in a special British way. A fact which is often ignored is that China is making great efforts against climate change, but many politicians and ignorant people take China as pretext. The article also points out that the problems China is facing in policy-making aren't irreconcilable, and it's naive to resolve China's problems in simply ways. However, the translation is not so good for many terrfic words and comments haven't been embodied in Chinese. I hope the translator can polish it if conditions allow.
For example, “What’s the point, mate, with China building one new power station every minute?” should have been translated into “如果中国每分钟都建成一个新的电站,那我们做这些又有什么意义呢?”and "I have yet to hear a single politician mention..." should be “我还从没有听到一个政治家提到过……". Due to time and lack of space, I couldn't list all. I hope to see better translation, which could make readers better understand the author's meaning.
王韬 (Tao WANG) Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research & Sussex Energy Group

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

感谢王韬的优秀评论

王韬先生的评论非常到位。对我们翻译问题的指正也很切实,因为时间过于仓促,该文的翻译的确存在一些问题,正在重译中。
期待更多关注。

Lucky
北京副总编
中外对话

Sincere thanks to Wang Tao for his excellent comment

Mr. Wang Tao's comment was right on the spot. It was also pragmatic of him to suggest corrections for our translation; since we were pressed for time, the article's translation did contain certain mistakes, and we are currently retranslating it. I look forward to your renewed attentiveness.

Lucky (chief editor at China Dialogue, Beijing office)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

理论上是好的

我非常欣赏波立德先生的这篇文章。他说的很有道理。有趣的是,他的口气听起来像是许多非中国人在说话一样(例如,基于现实情况,中国应该领导……),但其实并没有这么多人(如果我哪里说的不对,敬请批评指正)。
我最近参加了一个由国家政府最高机构、清华大学等高等学府的学者、主要的中外民间非政府组织、大工厂老板以及市政府的官员参与的一个讨论。
奇怪的是,没有人同意中国将在未来成为绿色能源出口国。他们都认为中国应该多吸取西方的先进技术,不要总是模仿,要注重创新。
为什么两边的观点出入会如此之大?虽然中国对此问题很关注,也采取了行动(投资),那为什么还要依靠国外的技术?我还有什么信息不知道吗?

What is good in theory...

I quite appreciate Mr. Porritt's article. What he says is making an awful lot of sense. What is in interesting is that he sounds like what a lot of non-Chinese are saying (i.e. China should be able to lead on..., based on it's situation), but which very few, if any Chinese are saying (and I welcome you to correct me if you have evidence otherwise).

I recently participated in discussions with some of the highest level authorities in national government, some of the most prestigeous academics at Tsinghua and other universities, leading foreign and Chinese grassroots NGOs, large factory owners, and other informed officials in large city governments.

The curious thing is that not one of them agreed that China would become a green technology exporting nation in the near future. They all cited the need for more tech from the west, and that it has always been China's role to replicate, not necissarily to create.

My question is, why does this Chinese view differ so dramatically from what non-Chinese are saying? In spite of all the evidence of knowing and acting (and investing) on this problem in China, why is there still the feeling of reliance on outside technology, outside expertise? Which perspective am I missing?

snicker
[email protected]

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

太精彩了

看完这篇文章,做为一个中国人,觉得很痛快。但是,不论怎样,还是希望中国政府也好、美国政府也好,都能为气候变化做更多的事情。大家面临的是同一个问题,互相指责的态度无计于解决任何问题。正如作者所指出的,中国政府现在面临的,来自国内外的、各方面的环境压力已经迫使他做出更多、更有力度的行动。但是,怎样才能给美国政府更多这样的压力?怎样才能让他成为一个真正的LEADER?

That’s absolutely great!

Being a Chinese, just felt jolly after reading this article. However, by hook or by crook, I still wish that both Chinese and US government are able to have done something to tackle climate change. We are facing the same problem, blaming on each other will not be able to resolve the problem. As pointed out by the author, the Chinese government is currently pressurised by both internal and external environmental stress, which has been forced the government to act vigorously. However, how to present the same pressure against US government? And how to let them to become a real LEADER?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

重心偏移

Snicker,我与4号评论意见一致。我认为全球暖化问题上公众已经走在政府前面了。然而西方政客们仍担心选举失利,中国政客们又担心社会动荡。面对问题的严重性,领导人们的举动远远不够。我相信在这里,人们要指责我“反中国”,但是根据联合国发布的科学调查信息,为什么中国把重心放在登月计划上?这似乎就是一个重心偏移的例子?制造“长征1号”的科学家想必是世界上最聪明的一群人,为什么中国不鼓励他们发展科技应对气候变化呢?西方国家的情况也是如此。美国及其盟国在伊拉克及阿富汗战争中浪费的资金本可以更好地被用于应对气候变化。各国领导人的重心都发生了偏移,情况让人十分痛心。

misplaced priorities

Snicker, and comment no 4

I agree with what you're saying. I think global warming is becoming an issue where citizens are ahead of governments. But Western politicians are scared of being voted out and Chinese politicians are scared of social unrest. Our leaders actions don't match the seriousness of the problem.

I'm no doubt going to be attacked for being anti-China here, but given the scientific information we're receiving from the UN why is China focusing on sending rockets to the moon? Surely this is a case of misplaced priorities? The people who built ChangE1 must be among the brightest minds in the world. Why can't they be put to use to develop technology to fight climate change? The same goes for the West. The amount of money the US and its partners have wasted on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been much better spent on climate change. It really is sad that leaders of all sides have not got their priorities right.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

没必要谴责

首先我想指出的是我发表的(4号)评论相应的翻译有误。我的中文原文是“中国政府也好、美国政府也好,都能为气候变化做更多的事情”(而不是中美两国政府本能做更多的事情)。我想中国人和外国人的看法不一致是很正常的?就算面对同样的问题,我们所持的立场和利益也会有所不同。同时我认为我的评论也有误。没有必要向美国施压让其担起领导一角。互相责备并不能解决问题。如果每个人都能进行自审,并尽可能地改正和改进,应对气候变化并不是不可能的事情。

NO NEED TO BLAME

first I would like to point out there is a mistake of the translation of my comment (no 4). I said in Chinese that both American and Chinese government need to "more" on climate change (instead of are able to have done something).
I think it's natural that Chinese view differs from what non-Chinese are saying? Even when facing the same problem, we have different stands and interests to keep. And I think there is a mistake in my comment. No need to press America to become the leader. Any blame won't do any good on solving the problem. If everybody can check him/herself and make improvements and corections as best as one can, then it won't be impossible to tackle climate change.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

今朝明日

回复评论5,我认为波立德先生及其他很多持类似观点的人们讨论的是未来的情况(希望这距当今还有一段时间),然而中国的读者讨论的是中国目前的技术能力。然而可能还有这样一种战略性的思考,中国在获取环保技术转让方面已经比较吃力,如果想要在绿色科技领域充当领军人物将会更加困难。但是我认为中国在领导开发绿色科技之前尚有一段很长的路要走。科技和知识与其他事物不同,投资及开发并不能保证回报。整个筹备累积的过程非常长,若要等中国单独开发这些科技将浪费我们应对气候变化的宝贵时间。中国可以在应对气候变化中可以带头行动;但是消除技术转让的障碍,开展更广泛、更有建设意义的国际合作对挖掘中国潜力非常重要。王韬---廷道尔气候变化研究中心和苏塞克斯能源研究小组

today and tomorrow

To snicker,

I think Mr Porritt, and many other people holding similar points, are talking about the future, hopefully so far away; while your Chinese audience are talking about current technological capacity of China. But there might be a strategic thinking, as China is already struggle to get more green technology transfer, it might be even harder if they start claiming themselves leaders in green technology. But I think China still has long way to go before leading green technology. Technology and knowledge are like no other, investment and action cannot always guarantee the outcome. The accumulation process is so long that waiting for China to develop these technologies alone is wasting our precious time fighting against climate change. China could lead actions in combating climate change; but removing technology transfer barriers, wider and more constructive international collaboration hold a key to unleash China’s ability.

王韬 (Tao WANG) Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research & Sussex Energy Group

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

求同存异

在一个有多重主要任务的世界,难道致力于同时解决这些主要任务就叫做工作重心偏移吗?如果中国必须得保持经济增长、消除贫困、帮助弱势群体远离贫穷和社会动荡,我便不得不说这些工作都和应对气候变化一样重要。唯一的区别在于前者是国家的问题,而后者是全球议题。中国发展“长征一号”运载火箭不是为了炫耀其空间技术,这也是中国发展计划的一部分。“长征一号”工程及其它航空项目一样,不仅仅是激发了某些科技的发展应用。同样的,美国也不是那么愚蠢,与伊拉克和阿富汗开战是因为钱多地没处花。有趣的是你和另一位读者同时引用了“长征一号”和伊拉克战争,这是十分不恰当的类比。请见http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/summary/1440-Ecological-civilisation-is-the-way-forward 我就没有必要重复解释了。中国第一任总理周恩来在1955年召开的万隆会议上提出了一个非常著名的观点:“求同存异”。它和"共同但有区别责任"原则有异曲同工之妙,但是又不径相同。互相指责并不能解决问题,但可惜的是我们很多人都是这样,从对方那里找理由解释自己的不作为,更重要的是,我们缺乏互相了解体谅和“求同存异”的精神。不仅是有些个人用自己的衡量标准对别的国家下定论,国家与国家之间也经常发生这样的事。王韬---廷道尔气候变化研究中心和苏塞克斯能源研究小组

Unity in diversity

In a world when there is more than one priority, does that mean anything focusing on more than one priority is misplaced priority? If China thinks it has to keep economic growth and eradicating poverty, prevent vulnerable people falling back to poverty and social unrest, I am sorry but I cannot see it less justified than combating climate change. The only difference is the first one is national issue while the second one is global.

China develops ChangE1 not just to show off its space technology but part of growth plan. The whole project of ChangE1 as well as other space project is not just a boost to some specific technology. Similarly America is not stupid enough go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan just because it has too much cash to throw. It is such an interesting coincidence that you and another gentleman both cited ChangE1 and Iraq war together, a rather inappropriate analogy. See http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/summary/1440-Ecological-civilisation-is-the-way-forward.

There is no need to repeat the same words. China’s first premier Zhou Enlai has a famous viewpoint on the Bandung Conference in 1955, “求同存异(Unity in diversity)”. It has some echo on “Common but Differentiated Responsibility”, but not all the same. We are going nowhere by blaming each other, but sadly that is what many of us are doing, finding excuse from others for our own inaction, and most of all, lack of understanding to each other and the spirit of “Unity in diversity”. Making judgement on other nation using self-centric measurement does not just happen in individuals, but nations too.

王韬 (Tao WANG) Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research & Sussex Energy Group 廷道尔气候变化研究中心和苏塞克斯能源研究小组

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

韬,我赞同应该消除贫困,但是这项工作应以可持续的方式来进行。我们目前的发展模式和脱贫方式都是不可持续的,而据估计本世纪中期全球人口将增加近30亿,这使得资源争夺战愈加激烈。韬,难道你没有意识到如果我们不选择更可持续的道路,并尽快做出这样的选择,所有的新车,靓房,MP3和电脑等都将没有意义吗?因为整个人类正走向自我毁灭。所以解决这个问题的工作是否应该优先于脱贫工作?如果我们赖以生存的星球都不存在了,达到“零贫困”的目标意义何在?更糟的是你似乎没有意识到,最先将生活在不适合居住的环境中的正是中国西部和南部的贫困人群。说到中国应该重新定位工作重心,我并不是要掩盖你所热衷的中国达成的种种成就,我的意思是我们应该共同首先解决全球暖化的问题,否则所有关于发展的努力就将白费。所以,我的确认为人类现阶段的登月计划毫无必要。我并不是在伊拉克战争和长征一号两者间做类比。这不是“类比”这个词的意思所在。我只是列举了一些事例,证明面临此般危险,全球各国正怎样浪费人力和财力的事实。退一步讲,登月计划如何能帮助甘肃的农民脱贫?你不用担心我的矛头只指向中国而忽略自己的国家在保护环境方面的不作为:我已经向英国议员们写过很多措辞严厉的文章。我认为我们的分歧在于我将气候变化看作历史性的灾难,而你的观点却不同。去读读“国际气候变化研究小组”的那些报告吧。

Tao

Tao
I agree that poverty needs to be eradicated, but that needs to be done sustainably. Our current methods of development and poverty eradication are not sustainable and with the global population set to increase by nearly 3 billion by the middle of the century the strain on and competition for resources will be even greater.

Can you not see, Tao, that if we don't move to a more sustainable track and do it soon, then all the new cars, posh apartments, MP3 players and computers will have been for nothing? The human race is heading for self destruction. Surely solving that problem has to come before poverty eradication? What's the point of reaching zero poverty if when we arrive at that destination there isn't a planet left? But worst of all, you don't seem to recognise that it will be those poor people in the south and west of China who will be among the first in the world who will find themselves living in an uninhabitable environment. By saying that China should refocus its priorities, I'm not trying to deprive the country of the greatness you so crave, I'm saying that we need to get this global warming problem sorted first or all our efforts to develop will have been in vain.
So yes, I do see sending a rocket to the moon at this present stage in human history as unnecessary. I wasn't making an analogy between the Iraq war and ChangE1. That is not the meaning of the word analogy. I was listing examples of wastes of brainpower and cash that we are currently witnessing around the world in the face of such danger. Anyway, how does sending a rocket to the moon help the peasants of Gansu?

Don't worry that I'm singling out China and ignoring my own country's lack of environmental efforts: I've written much harsher words than this to British MPs.

I think where we differ is that I see climate change as an emergency of epic proportions, while you don't. Go and read the IPCC reports.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

天高皇帝远

北京的一小部分倍受关注的高官应充分了解即刻行动的必要,并且设立雄心壮志的减排目标,但是是否这只是一种空想,目前并不能下定论。中国也有很多法律保护知识产权,据我所知,国家也禁止司机在自行车道上驾驶。汤姆

the emperor is far away

The small illuminated elitist leadership in Beijing may well understand the urgency of action, and set ambitious green targets, but it remains to be seen if that is anything more than wishfull thinking. There are plenty of Chinese laws protecting IP rights as well, and it is forbidden to drive your car in the bike lane as far as i know.
Tom