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Developing China's low-carbon economy

Improving energy efficiency and moving toward clean technologies will not only improve the climate, but also bring social and economic benefits to China, write Feng Chaoling and CS Kiang.

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As China debates climate change, there has much domestic controversy over whether action on global warming will influence the country's economic development. But creating a low-carbon economy, which will involve widespread changes – including emissions reductions, improvements in energy efficiency, adjustments in the energy infrastructure and launching carbon capture projects – may be a win-win choice for China, countering climate change at the same time as promoting economic and social progress.  

The concept of the low-carbon economy emerged out of researchers’ attempts to propose a feasible and equitable mechanism for international society to reduce carbon emissions. The core idea was to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through improving energy efficiency and employing clean technologies. 

The widely used Kaya formula determines the four variables necessary to create any low-carbon economy. 



Kaya formula:

Emissions = population x gross domestic product (GDP) per capita x energy consumption per unit GDP x emissions per unit of energy consumption

This describes emissions as a product of population size, consumption levels and efficiency of carbon and energy use. 

In the case of China, the birth rate is below the world average level, but the country will still see a moderate increase in population in the coming decades. With regard to GDP per capita, China has an urgent mission to eliminate poverty and this should not be decreased unless there is no alternative. The emissions intensity per unit of energy consumption, which is usually interpreted as equivalent to the emission factor, will probably stay the same for many years unless there are huge breakthroughs in combustion technology. Therefore, the easiest factor for China to decrease should be the intensity of its energy consumption. In practice, China does have great potential to improve its energy consumption efficiency; one calculation shows that the country's energy-conservation efforts could in fact be five times greater than those of the United States, and 10 times those of Japan

The promotion of a low-carbon economy in China would benefit social well being and economic development in the short- and long-term.  

First, carbon is bound up tightly with the burning of fossil-fuels for energy. Reducing emissions by improving energy efficiency at every level will mean conserving energy, reducing reliance on energy imports and consolidating the country's energy security, as well as alleviating resource scarcity in China. 

Second, mitigation projects in most sectors will mean reducing regional pollution levels and protecting local environments. For instance, coal washing in power plants reduces carbon dioxide emissions and also reduces pollutants with more local impacts than carbon dioxide, such as sulphur dioxide and mercury. Reforestation projects in Yunnan province, which benefit climate-change efforts, also protect local biodiversity by creating a bio-corridor for a nearby nature reserve. 

Third, a low-carbon economy will create new job opportunities. According to the United Nations, China's solar energy industry employed over 150,000 people in 2005. 

Moreover, developing a low-carbon economy will spur the development of innovative and advanced technologies, putting China at the leading edge of international competition. A recent analysis conducted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change showed that 37% of China’s projects in the pipeline of the Clean Development Mechanism, Kyoto's international emissions trading scheme, will involve technology transfer, from hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) technology to wind energy development.  

So how is China reducing the intensity of energy consumption? The country’s current initiatives mainly lie in adjusting the energy infrastructure and improving energy efficiency.

Large changes in China's industrial structure in the 1980s and '90s meant energy consumption intensity nearly reduced by half. During this transition, a great many of inefficient national monopolies were overhauled and changed into smaller but efficient township and village industries.

Since the turn of the new century, China has focused on transforming its heavy industry in order to optimize energy consumption. It is clear from national directives issued by China's central economic planners that independent innovation and intellectual property should be the incentives that push heavy industries towards more advanced industry. China has sponsored its service industry, in particular, in order to dampen the economy’s reliance on highly energy-consuming manufacturing. In practice, however, these initiatives have been largely offset by the overwhelming growth in secondary industry.  

On the energy supply side, structural adjustment has largely meant incentives to change the energy mix. The Renewable Portfolio Standard, which exemplifies this approach, fixed regional quotas for renewable energy for the eleventh Five Year Plan from 2005 to 2010. At the same time, great innovations in large-scale wind turbine technology have been developed and diffused with the help of the CDM. 

Improving energy efficiency in production processes is another way to reduce the overall intensity of energy consumption. The target is to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20% during the eleventh Five Year Plan. Ten major programmes aim to meet this goal. The “top 1,000 energy-consuming enterprises programme” is one of these. Since these enterprises are responsible for 64% of industrial energy consumption and 33% of total energy consumption, the programme imposes energy conservation goals at every level, from energy-intensive chemical processes through to coal mining and textiles. 

Demand-side management is the other, indispensable part of energy efficiency improvement, and it has been an administrative consideration for some time in China. In 2004, one Chinese electricity demand side management scheme eliminated 70% of electricity losses.  

With progress in the construction of China's low-carbon economy has come a greater focus on technology transfer and innovation in clean and high-efficiency technologies. There has been a stable growth in international cooperation schemes, such as the CDM and Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, advanced mitigation technologies and energy-efficiency technologies in recent years. Keeping up the pressure on energy consumption – and thus reducing Chinese emissions – will require technology transfer and protection systems to keep the flow of technologies in place. 

Feng Chaoling is a master's degree candidate at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Feng's research focusses on the economic analysis of climate-change policies 

CS Kiang is the founding dean of the College of Environmental Sciences, Peking University

Homepage photo by cargocycing

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


(本评论由Yang bin翻译)

one step further

I am disappointed that this article fails to mention that China is not really on track to reach the objective of 20% reduction of energy intensity over 2006-2010, and instead of analyzing possible causes, just sticks with the 'good news'. This is not the China Daily, is it?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




该评论由Lijin Zeng翻译

Plan B

Globally no nation will surrender in the short term, the comforts that fossil fuels deliver. Replicating Nature and planting out high CO2 sequestering C4 (photosynthesis pathway)vegetation back into China's expanding desert regions will permit business as usual while reversing deserts to sustainable food
yield, hence addressing 2 serious concerts together for a healthy China. Robert Vincin Beijing

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



演讲者是一个研究全球变暖多年的生物学家,她在千人的大会上流着泪讲出各种可怖的事实,可最终的结论是除非发达国家把自己的污染水平控制于某基线以下,才有资格说服发展中国家的经济为环保做出让步,然而即使发达国家离那样的理想状态也还有很长的路要走…… 这是当前的现实。


Facts vs. Reality

Recently I went to a speech on global warming which clarified one doubt: the idea I once read from some media that "it's hard to persuade the society to really work on global warming because it's not proved by scientific data" is totally wrong. The "scientific data" showed clearly that the temperature is rising globally just like our population, that is plain fact!

The speaker was an established biologist who had been doing research on global warming for years. She told us all the terrifying facts with tears, and she couldn't be entirely optimistic. She suggested that only if the developed countries control their pollution under some base line, could they lecture the developing countries on giving up some current economic benefit and controlling their own pollution. Yet the developed countries still have a long way before they reach the ideal emission levels... this is reality.

Struggling between scientific facts and reality of achieving emissions targets, it is extremely hard for the powerless scientists to keep hope.

This comment was translated by Lijin Zeng

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



It is so very hard

to leave a msg by one click here

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


为什么作者要称赞云南的重新造林项目?所提到的” “包括海外华人投资者(特别是来自新加坡和香港的投资者,不过他们与福建省有联系,并得到地方政府高层的支持)计划或已开始实施的将少数民族居住地辟为速生林木种植区。亚洲浆纸业有限公司是最臭名昭著的实例之一。这种做法应被视为资源殖民主义,或者是圈地运动,而不是什么获得全球支持的减缓气候变暖的努力。用这些速生林生产的产品(基于板材和纸浆)不可能有赢利的市场,特别是由于经济衰退(中国的贸易统计数据已表现出来)或是出于对产品合法性和不可持续性的担忧(这是云南省面临的主要问题)。把土地腾出来用于种植麻疯树(以及其他可提取生物燃料的树种)这一做法应该成为全民运动吗?客观的科学研究表明,在云南省,这样的项目至多是投机性的。在推行一个项目的动机值得怀疑时才需要全国性的激励因素和“外资”进入-并预示着大规模的公共财政补贴。Globaltimber
(本评论由Yang bin翻译)


Why do the authors praise reforestation in Yunnan?

The "South" including offshore chinese investors (notably from Singapore and Hong Kong, but with links to Fujian province and support from the highest levels of local government) either plan or have started to convert ethnic minority land to short rotation plantations. Asia Pulp and Paper is the most notorious example.

This should be regarded as resource colonialism or a land grab, not something which warrants global support as a climate change mitigation effort.

The products which would ultimately be made from those plantations (based on panels and pulp) are unlikely to find a profitable market - particularly as a consequence of recession (already visible from China's trade statistics) and concern about illegality and unsustainability (major issues in Yunnan).

Should conversion of land to jatropha (and other plants from which one can extract bio-fuel) a national imperative? Unbiased scientific research finds that, in Yunnan, such schemes are at best speculative.

National imperatives and "foreign" capital tend to be required when the motives for schemes are questionable - and imply large public subsidy.


Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


很好,中国已转向使用更多的洁净和高效技术。但是这离低碳经济还有多远?中国将如何有效实现减排目标?为实现大的改变和一个大的目标,洁净技术使用与煤炭发电相比费用似乎还是很高。我认为中国需要有更高效环保条例的实施体系并同时推广更加经济的激励措施。中国是从理论走向实际的时候了。 F. Zhou

Low-carbon economy, at what price?

It is great that China is moving to the clean and efficient technologies. But how fast it will move to the low carbon economy? How will China manage to implement efficiently their emission reduction targets? The cost of clean technologies seems to be still too high (compare to coal for the electricity sector) for a radical change and reach the targets. I think China needs to have a more efficient implementation system of environmental regulations and to promote more economical incentive measures. It is time to go from theory to pragmatism!
F. Zhou

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


我非常想知道联合国是否已经制定了一系列促进发展中国家“低碳经济”的方案,议题,或者实际战略。此外,在这个领域里目前主要存在的问题是什么?大家能够尽快地给我一些相关的资料和信息吗? 谢谢。LL

promoting low-carbon economy in developing countries

I'm very curious that whether UN has set any plans,any issues ,or practicle srategies to promote low-carbon economy in developing countries.And what's the main problems now remaining in this area? Could you give me any resources or information as soon as possible.Thank you LL