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Is China really committed to addressing climate change?

Leading energy experts working for the Chinese government explain how the country can cut its carbon footprint


By Ed King

What do Chinese leaders and energy experts really think about climate change?

It’s a critical question, as without a strong low-carbon drive from China there is no chance of the planet avoiding dangerous levels of global warming.

The country is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, a trend that shows little sign of slowing with hundreds of coal power plants in the pipeline.

At the end of 2013 RTCC spoke to four influential policy experts who are helping shape the country’s climate and energy strategy. Here’s what they had to say – you may be surprised.

Li Gao is Deputy Director General, Department of Climate Change National Development and Reform Commission and a senior Chinese negotiator on climate change.

“We have deep concern over the impacts of climate change, like other developing and small island countries. If you look at China we have a very long coastal line. We are concerned about sea level rising. It will have a very big threat to our development. We think Typhoon Haiyan reminded the world that adaptation is urgent. In the last 20 years we talked about the balance between adaptation and mitigation, but this process has paid the majority of attention to mitigation. We think it is the right time to pay attention to adaptation. It is happening.”

Jiang Kejun, Senior Researcher at Energy Research Institute, Beijing, and one of the country’s most respected energy commentators. Last year he released a paper arguing China’s emissions can peak by 2025, provided the government deploys ambitious policies.

“Coal is the biggest source for energy related CO2 emissions. We have to change our way to use coal. If coal cannot reach peak then it’s difficult for China to reach a peak of CO2 emissions. We also have strong policies on air pollution. This brings very big hope to reach coal peak in the next few years, by 2015 or 2017. In the meantime we have to find alternatives, like renewables. But in the coming years we need lots of natural gas to replace the coal.”

Zhou Dadi is director general (emeritus) Energy Research Institute (ERI) of the influential National Development and Reform Commission. He’s currently vice chairman of the State Expert Advisory Committee to the National Energy Leading Group of China.

“We’re trying to develop a study to see when and how China’s emissions can peak. Some people will be more optimistic, and think it could be in 2025. Some people think we can only achieve that by 2030. Personally I understand why the pressures are so high. We need to achieve a global peak. China is already number one country for wind power – we have 75GW, and we are speeding up solar. I think by 2020 China will become the world’s number one solar country, but it’s not enough to replace fossil fuels. That’s a challenge.”

Professor Liu Yanhua is a Counsellor for the State Council of China and a former Vice Minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology. He’s a Member of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change in China, and Member of International Risk Governance Council (IRGC).

“In spring time, there was a big fog haze in China, very serious air pollution, covering 10 provinces and affecting 600 million people. People worried a lot. Air pollution has an economic loss. People do not feel happy with this pollution, and with this situation we cannot wait. The government should do something, the people should do something and maybe the companies should do something. We must think our economic growth may be partly based on cost to environment and ecology.”

Zhiquan Zeng is a youth delegate for the National Centre for Climate Change of China.

“It’s very bad. Five days of the week we can’t see the sun. The air is really bad. We can’t even have PE classes. But people in China are aware of what is happening and want to make a change. My classmates have learnt more about what causes this situation and how we can change it. There are lots of things going on in China, the pollution and political issues. It’s the toughest time and there are so many things to be solved. The government is handling the largest pressure. I think they are aware of what is happening, but there’s just not enough time to pay attention.”

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  • davidhouston

    China is playing the West for fools. They are the biggest beneficiaries of the Climate Change Scam.

    • jfreed27

      Who twisted your mind?

  • Clancy

    Hey guys awesome article. Would you be able to add subtitles to the videos or provide transcriptions? The speakers all have a great technical grasp of the English language but their pronunciation makes them difficult to understand.

    For example, here is a section from YouTube’s automatic captions from Jiang Kejun:

    “target what’s mean you know for global
    to Team Issue and that we’ve run the global mall
    though it was the router global sees hootie mission possibly and come
    back to thing about what’s that Chinese hootie mission”

    Fascinating discussion topics but frustratingly inaccessible at present.

    • http://www.rtcc.org/ RTCC

      Hi Clancy – thanks for the note. We don’t have the manpower at present to offer subtitles, but I’ll see what we can do in the future. Best wishes, Ed King, RTCC editor

  • Gnoll110

    It all depend on if this and other information is getting to the Chinese general public.

    Once the public knows, they need to start asking for action.

    Governing any country as large (both in population & area) as China is like riding a tiger. The government will act when is perceives that the real or imagined threat of climate unrest is bigger than the treat from economic/job unrest.

    A few years ago, workers seized control of a factory (steel works from memory) after news of big job cuts broke. They seriously beat up the owner and then prevented emergency service from reaching him. He died of his injuries.

    No one dieing in climate related riots yet. This is why I’m a Chinese (and other BRICS nations) riot watcher.

    • ghormax

      The key problem is that what helped economic growth (decentralization of power to local governments) hurts environmental protection. With a lack of transparency, the ability to use brute force, and the lure of quick and easy money, I think the odds for change are low even if public pressure increases. That’s just a key disadvantage of the type of authoritarian regime that China has.

      • Gnoll110

        Very much. That why I think it will take food & water problems triggering full scale riots to get the ball rolling.