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What Stern said about China (part one)

A landmark review of the economics of climate change cites Beijing’s ambitious policies on greenhouse gases, but says much more needs to be done. Maryann Bird sifts through the report.

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The job of the Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, released in London on 30 October 2006, was to assess the economics of moving to a low-carbon global economy, the potential of different adaptation approaches and the specific lessons for the UK. Although it was commissioned by the British government – back in July 2005 – Nicholas Stern’s report takes a necessary international perspective. Indeed, the former chief economist for the World Bank and members of his team visited numerous countries and institutions in the course of their inquiry.

One of their stops was China, the emerging global giant which could hardly have been overlooked in such a study. (A short version of the review’s executive summary has already been published in Chinese.) China was cited among the countries and regions already taking action and which have “the most ambitious policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions”. But more ambitious action is now required, globally.

In its executive summary, the review stated that, on current trends, average global temperatures will rise by 2 to 3º C within the next 50 years or so. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to grow, this global warming will have many severe impacts. “Melting glaciers will initially increase flood risk,” the report said, “and then strongly reduce water supplies, eventually threatening one-sixth of the world’s population, predominantly in the Indian sub-continent, parts of China and the Andes in South America.” One-sixth of the global population, today, is over one billion people.

Discussing -- in a section on the impacts of climate change on growth and development -- how climate change will affect people around the world, the document warned: “Climate change will have serious consequences for people who depend heavily on glacier meltwater to maintain supplies during the dry season.” That would affect some 250 million people in China, given that 23% of the country’s population “lives in the western region that depends principally on glacier meltwater. Virtually all glaciers are showing substantial melting in China, where spring stream-flows have advanced by nearly one month since records began.”

 “Initially, water flows may increase in the spring as the glacier melts more rapidly. This may increase the risk of damaging glacial lake outburst floods, especially in the Himalayas, and also lead to shortages later in the year. In the long run, dry-season water will disappear permanently once the glacier has completely melted.” Glacial lake outburst floods are described as catastrophic discharges of large volumes of water following the breach of the natural dams that contain glacial lakes – and China’s neighbour Nepal is considered particularly vulnerable.

On the key issue of food, the report stated that production will be particularly sensitive to climate change; in large part, crop yields depend on prevailing climate conditions – temperature and rainfall. In tropical regions, Stern says, “even small amounts of warming will lead to declines in yield. In higher latitudes, crop yields may increase initially for moderate increases in temperature, but then fall. Higher temperatures will lead to substantial declines in cereal production around the world.” In some parts of China, “low levels of warming in mid to high latitudes may improve the conditions for crop growth by extending the growing season and/or opening up new areas for agriculture. Further warming will have increasingly negative impacts … as damaging temperature thresholds are reached more often and water shortages limit growth.”

The economic and social consequences may well prove catastrophic: agriculture takes up 40% of the planet’s land area, accounts for 24% of world economic output, and employs 22% of the global population. And Stern adds, 75% of the poorest people in the world rely on agriculture for their livelihood.

Additionally, sea-level rise as a result of global warming will “increase coastal flooding, raise costs of coastal protection, lead to loss of wetlands and coastal erosion, and increase saltwater intrusion into surface and groundwater.” Rising sea levels, which began in the last century, will “increase the amount of land lost and people displaced due to permanent inundation”. Coastal areas are not only densely populated – 200 million people reside in coastal floodplains worldwide -- but they also support important ecosystems on which local communities depend. And they often also are home to critical infrastructure projects, including oil refineries, nuclear power stations and port and industrial facilities.

Many of the world’s major cities, including Shanghai, are at risk of flooding from coastal surges. In addition to these coastal areas’ populations, some two million square kilometres of land and $1 trillion in assets exist less than one metre above current sea level. Those most vulnerable live in south and east Asia, along the African coast and on small islands. Estimates of the number of global environmental refugees by 2050 extend as high as 200 million.

Development – and poverty reduction – is threatened by climate change. Climate models predict a range of (chiefly) negative impacts on developing countries, from a decline in agricultural output and food security to a loss of vital river flows. While climatic patterns vary significantly across a country as large as China, its average surface air temperature has risen by between 0.5 and 0.8º C over the 20th century; the increases have been more noted in northern China and the Tibetan plateau than in the south.

“Temperature rise will lead to temperate zones in China moving north,” the review states, “as well as an extension of arid regions. Cities such as Shanghai are expected to experience an increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves causing significant discomfort to fast-growing urban populations.”

In addition to existing water shortages in China, water scarcity is expected to grow more critical, particularly in such northern provinces as Ningxia, Gansu, Shanxi and Jilin – exacerbated by economic and population growth. In the next 50 to 100 years, though, an increase in average rainfall in southern provinces – including Fujian, Zhejiang and Jiangxi – is expected to lead to more flooding, which will bite into the country’s GDP. Agricultural output and productivity across different regions will vary as a result of climate change, depending on water availability. Overall, a net decrease is anticipated in seven northern and north-western provinces deemed particularly vulnerable (accounting for roughly 25% of total arable land and 14% of China’s total agricultural output by value).

Projecting the growth of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to climate change, the report says that most future rise will come from today’s developing countries and their energy-intensive industries. By 2030, China alone is expected to account for more than one third of the increase. The generation of power and heat (used mostly by domestic and commercial buildings and by industry) has been the fastest-growing source of emissions worldwide, growing by 2.2% per year between 1990 and 2002. By the end of this decade, China’s emissions are likely to overtake those of the United States, driven partly by its heavy use of coal.

Additionally, says the report: “Population growth rates will be higher among the developing countries, which are also likely in aggregate to have more rapid emissions growth per head. This means that emissions in the developing world will grow significantly faster than in the developed world, requiring a still sharper focus on emissions abatement in the larger economies like China, India and Brazil.”

Stern found that, in the case of climate change, some types of pollution which usually decline with rising income levels do not occur. “At a global level, there has been little evidence of large voluntary reductions in emissions as a result of consumers’ desire to reduce emissions as they become richer” – although “this may change as people’s understanding of climate-change risks improves.” Furthermore, with the relocation of manufacturing to developing countries, the shift within richer nations has less impact on total emissions. And, as incomes rise, the demand for air and car transport as well as some other carbon-intensive goods and services will keep growing.

Globally, says the report, “in the absence of policy interventions, the long-run positive relationship between income growth and emissions per head is likely to persist. Breaking the link requires significant changes in preferences, relative prices of carbon-intensive goods and services and/or breaks in technological trends.” Stern sees such change as possible “with appropriate policies”. Without them, though, “incremental improvements in efficiency alone will not overwhelm the income effect. For example, a review of projections for China carried out for the Stern Review suggests that energy demand is very like to increase substantially in ‘business as usual’ scenarios, despite major reductions in energy intensity.”

Stern also determined that increasing the levels of carbon finance -- the resources provided to purchase GHG emission reductions – for developing countries, to support effective GHG-cutting policies and programmes, would speed up the transition to a low-carbon economy. The review noted that developing countries already are “taking significant action to decouple their economic growth” from GHG growth. For example, “China has adopted very ambitious domestic goals to reduce energy used for each unit of GDP by 20% from 2006-2010 and to promote the use of renewable energy.”


Maryann Bird is a London-based journalist with a special interest in environmental and human-rights issues. A writer and editor, she was previously a staff member at Time magazine (Europe), The Independent, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Stern is important because it demonstrates that the environment and the Chinese economy are mutually constituted, that they are one and the same. For China or the rest of the world to move forward we must change the way our economies grow.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



How to turn the Stern Review into action?!

The Stern review does detail the issues and the situation we are facing to deal with climate change, but it fails to explore the reasons behind these problems, thus it fails also to point out what we should do to sort out the problems.

I think what we need today is not only the revealment of climate change problems, but also the actual solutions and commitment, especially those from developed countries.

The relocation of manufacturers from developed countries to developing ones, and other similiar globalization drives, leads to today's unequal responsibility to our common climate change problems.

"Made in China" is not a problem of China, but globally.

Today in the UK,nearly all products are imported overseas, including spring onion from South America and other common vegetable which could be grown in England. So you know how the transport of the goods to England causes emission.

It is unfair to blame developing countries for large amount of emission, even it is true. Developing countries should not be treated as
scapegoat of developed countries. If rich countries do care about the future of this planet, they need take actions now to sort out their own emission problems, and also are responsible to help sort out emission problems in developing countries which the rich countries have caused.

Today we do need think more about the impact of globalization and the living styles of developed countries upon the climate change.

To tackle climate change needs the transformation of the global system, it needs action.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


毒品使用政策, 特别是美国的, 自古以来只埋怨哥伦比亚或者阿富汗对毒品的生产, 而不从自己社会对毒品需求的角度来探讨这个问题。这个问题同样在碳排放中存在, 对于只“评击供应者” 是不合理的。无论产品在什么地方生产,大量的消费都是在富裕的西方国家。这些消费国家应该来感受碳污染带来的痛苦。

"shoot the supplier"

drug enforcement policy, especially the US's, has for a long time tried to blame Columbians or Afghans for producing drugs, rather than looked at the problem from the point of view of its own society that produces a need for drugs.

same with carbon. it is very inefficient to "shoot the supplier"; instead, the consumer of the bad substance - here carbon - should be made to feel the pain. Most of that consumption is in the rich west, wherever the production may be.


Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Stern and the Chinese consumer

If we in the West hope that China will do something to reduce its global environmental footprint, we should think carefully about the target of our hope. The Stern Report comes on the heels of a huge wave of alarming reports coming out in the UK recently-along with news berating Britons for the wastefulness of nearly everything they do and buy. While this may be having its effect on consumption patterns here, I would not suggest it as a strategy for reaching out to Chinese consumers. Better to patiently emphasise local impacts in China itself, and the big steps that business and government can start with.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


斯特恩报告,难道不是有二百年工业化历史的西方发达国家伪善地 嘱咐中国的实例吗?即便中国赶上美国成为世界上最大的污染者,这也不算是惊人的事,因为中国人口在世界上最多。更严重的问题是富有资源及财务的美国,目前作为世界上最大的污染者及最大的个人消费资源的国家。这个问题已有相当长的历史。对于用职业以摆脱贫穷的中国人,我们又该怎么说:“对不起,我们需要除掉你的工厂及工作,因为你污染得太多了。”对短期来说,这显然不是进步的道路;不过,很可能是我们十年之后才走上的中期道路。那么,中国工人该怎么办呢?难道这不是一个“个人所能,个人所需" 的道理吗?对于碳排放,这意味着美国应该立即作些牺牲来改变其生活方式,保护地球的未来,因为他们就有这个能力。欧洲国家也应当跟着美国走。中国的主要要求还是发展;在这个过程当中,别国应当促进中国的发展,并在发展导致严重污染的情况下也批评中国。可是,西方国家批评中国而不大改变自己的生活方式,不过是伪装的善良。


Is it not a case of the west, the developed west with a 200-year history of industrialisation, preaching to China?

So what if China overtakes the US as the world's biggest polluter? That's no surprise, it's the world's most populous nation. A bigger problem is a resources- and capital-rich country, the US, currently being the world's largest polluter and the world's largest per capita consumer of resources. This has been going on for some time too.

What should one say to Chinese people whose jobs have allowed them to climb out of absolute poverty - 'I'm sorry we have to get rid of your factory and your job because you pollute too much?'

Clearly, in the short term, this could not be the way forward. But it may well be an option in the medium term, say 10 years from now. What then for Chinese workers?

Should it not be a case of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need'?

In terms of carbon emissions this would mean that Americans should immediately make sacrifices in lifestyle in order to protect the planet's future, because they are in a position to. They should be joined by Europeans.

China has a more pressing need to develop; and it should be encouraged in this, and criticised if that development leads to pollution.

It is hyprocritical of the west to criticise China without itself making huge changes in lifestyle right now.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Trusting that Stern still does not know

"Population growth rates will be higher among the developing countries, which are also likely in aggregate to have more rapid emissions growth per head. This means that emissions in the developing world will grow significantly faster than in the developed world, requiring a still sharper focus on emissions abatement in the larger economies like China, India and Brazil.”

What Stern says makes some sense. But what developed countries are doing to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is not enough by far. They have not done well in promoting the creation of environmental protection science and technology or in the support of China creating world-leading technology to handle exhaust fumes.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



2001年,布什在上任时,以“对美国经济发展带来过重负担”为由,宣布退出《京都议定书》。时至2006年11月 7日开幕的联合国气候变化大会,又闻美国再次拒绝重返《京都议定书》,甚至还出现了“中国环境威胁”的论调。不由感慨万千。

[email protected]

Why isn't Chinese technology spreading?

Chinese people can create the most advanced technology to handle exhaust fumes, why can't they spread? We again hear that the U.S. government refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol, something that makes me sigh a great deal. My country's amount of pollution emissions is already serious, having exceeded the environment's ability to bear the load. This is shocking to behold, the situation is a crisis. China's current key industries, such as minerals, textiles, metallurgy, paper-making, steel and chemicals, are all industries high on resource consumption and heavily polluting. [email protected]

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



New Technology for China

In the sewage treatment process, we are still facing a lot of technical problems. For instance, we are unable to monitor certain parameters of water quality while carry out the experiment. However, we could apply soft sensing technique to overcome this problem. Alike human neural network with added the most advance soft sensing technique. We believe that this artificial neural network and soft sensing technique will become part of the development in sewage treatment. It will bring forward our home construction of water quality towards a new platform.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



English translations

Some of the English translations are really inappropriate (awful), translators should be better equipped with industry knowledge. For example: "online real time" as translated in "China New Tech"'s no. 8 post was not rightl while the sentence "artificial neural networks is the cutting edge technology in soft measurement" sounds like it was translated entirely through some software. Translations like this are a worry to readers at this website. -- Adam