Closing the emissions gap: Jiang Kejun interview

Guest post by Angel Hsu, Max Song and Jonathan Smith

At the UN climate negotiations in Durban, one of the most persistent themes has been the emissions or ambition gap between Copenhagen emission reduction pledges and the goal to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. 

To help facilitate the negotiations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report, “Bridging the Emissions Gap”, which concludes that even if countries fully implement their Copenhagen commitments, the world would only be about half way towards the emission reductions necessary to ensure global temperatures do not warm more than two degrees Celsius. However, the good news is that we have the technological and financial capacity now to achieve the emissions reductions necessary to avoid such an increase. 

We had the opportunity to speak with Jiang Kejun of China’s Energy Research Institute and a lead author of the UNEP report, about their analysis and what China can do here in Durban to help bridge the gap. 

Q: The UNEP report concludes that global emissions will need to peak before 2020 if the “emissions gap” is to be closed. How likely do you think it will be for countries to agree on this here in Durban and what about the time frame for when China’s emissions will peak?

JK: It’s necessary for the world to see emissions peak by 2020. We can get there supposing China’s emissions peak in 2025, and developed countries will have significantly reduced emissions by 2025. This way, it’s still possible to control global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. It’s not quite possible to observe the global peak before 2015. For China, emissions are expected to peak around 2030. However, if we look at clean tech development in China now, the speed is very fast and it’s still possible to see major changes coming from China in three to four years to help close the gap.

Q: So is China’s Copenhagen pledge to reduce carbon intensity 40% to 45% enough to help bridge the emissions gap?

JK: Actually, the 12th-Five Year Plan was made according to a target of 45% carbon intensity reduction. There are a lot of policies and actions in the plan on energy efficiency and non-fossil fuel energy. If all this work could be done well, it is possible for China to do better than the target.

Q: Technology transfer continues to be a very hot-button issue in the UN climate negotiations. Will China be pushing for technology transfer to contribute to their ability to help close the emissions gap?

JK: There is much capital from China looking for investment opportunities, however domestic investment has been pretty much saturated, and they are now looking at overseas investments. Clean tech investment is a good choice because China has the most competitive technologies that can bring down the cost of wind and solar power. So this is what we want to convey here in Durban: it’s not just emission reductions, it’s also about the country’s future competitiveness in the clean tech sector.

China will have a lot of capital in the future, like I just said, and China is not really in need of CDM money, which is only a tiny little part of GDP. What China needs is high-end technology.

Q: What do you think can be accomplished here in Durban?

JK: So here are my suggestions for us observers this time in COP-17. First, we want to leave some more room for the negotiators. Copenhagen was about debating; Cancun was about moving forward, and Durban is a working conference where countries don’t really want to fight each other but to finish the “homework” left from Copenhagen and Cancun. 

Also, countries in Durban want to nail down some technical details. For example, the EU wants to promote a “road-map” this time, and countries like China are waiting for that proposal to see how much it can be promoted. If Durban fails again, then countries will start to doubt UN’s capability.

Also China is changing very fast, and the negotiators need time to follow up. For example, China expected financial support in Copenhagen, but this time, this is not a major issue for China.

Q: If Parties fail to decide on a second commitment period before the Kyoto Protocol expires next year, what do you think China’s response will be?

JK: I think this [failure to agree on the Kyoto Protocol] would be unimaginable. Without the KP – the minimum-level of agreement – it would be a mess. Ideally, we should have an improved KP, both considering the needs from G77+China and developed countries. China can also compromise on some issues here in Durban.

Q: If a new agreement can only be made for 2020, do you think that would be too late?

JK: Certainly too late. There is possibility for some countries to make new adjustments to their 2020 emission goals. So I think countries should start to make targets for 2025 and 2030. If those targets are made very clear, then we can start to place less emphasis on emission targets for 2020.

Angel Hsu is a PhD candidate at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Max Song is a MEM student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; and Jonathan Smith is a JD/MEM candidate at Yale Law School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. They are all attending COP-17 in Durban.

This is an abbreviated version of a post first published by 

 Image courtesy of Angel Hsu