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[Martin Khor] Towards green low-carbon growth?

With the slow progress in global climate negotiations, some developing countries are taking their own climate actions to reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Of course, their actions will fall far short of what is required, unless the expected funds and technology resulting from the global talks materialize.

And unless the developed countries also cut their emissions greatly and leave more “carbon space” to the developing countries.

The Chinese government organized a conference on “green low-carbon development” in Beijing from June 22 to June 24, bringing together international and local experts with national and provincial policy makers.

That China hosted this event itself was significant, as it is the largest developing country in both population and economic size.

It has also become one of the two largest greenhouse gas emitting countries in the world.

But, as pointed out at the conference, China is still a middle-income developing country, ranked rather average among developing countries in both per capita income and per capita emissions.

Nevertheless, the spotlight has very much been on China, not least because its high economic growth on top of its economic weight means what happens in the country has a significant impact on global climate change.

The conference was meant to open China’s plans for scrutiny and comment. The list of actions being planned is impressive.

As enumerated by Sun Cui Hua, deputy director-general of the Climate Change Department of the National Development and Reform Commission, these included 10 policy areas.

The first was implementing climate change macro policies. The targets in the recently unveiled 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) include:

― Non-fossil fuel to account for 11.4 percent of primary energy consumption;

― A 30 percent cut of water consumption per unit of value-added industrial output;

― A 16 percent reduction in energy consumption per unit of GDP;

― A 17 percent cut in carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP (en route to the pledged goal of 40 percent to 45 percent reduction by 2020 compared with 2005); and,

― The forest coverage rate to rise to 21.7 percent and forest stock to increase by 600 million cubic meters.

Not mentioned by Sun, but which will have equally important implications, is the new 7 percent average annual GDP growth target for the 2011-15 period.

This is a reduction from the annual growth of 10 percent plus per year that China has been used to.

A cut by three to four percentage points in GDP growth will in itself mean a large reduction in emissions growth, on top of the cuts in emissions intensity of GDP.

Other policies or actions Sun announced included:

― Establishing a fund in China to finance its climate actions;

― Launching low-carbon pilot projects in selected cities and provinces;

― Using market mechanisms, including new conditions for enterprises, and a pilot program on emissions trading;

― A low carbon certification system to identify industries and products and encourage upgrading of enterprises;

― Compiling an inventory of greenhouse gases, including building the capacity of local governments and having a guidebook for enterprises;

― Strengthening legislation to accompany the policy measures;

― Education and campaigns for low-carbon lifestyles;

― Strengthening international cooperation through exchanges and South-South cooperation; and,

― Enacting policy measures in various sectors and improving forecasting and early warning for extreme weather events.

Italy’s Environment Ministry director-general Corrado Clini said other countries should learn from China in prioritizing low-carbon technologies. China had become the leader in investments for low-carbon technologies, spending $34 billion in 2010 against $17 billion by the United States, $12 billion by Britain, $11 billion by Spain, $8 billion by Brazil, $4 billion by Germany and $3 billion each by Canada and India.

Data on recent performance in China’s energy and emissions were given by Wang Zhongmin of the China Institute of Standardization, who said that energy consumption per unit of GDP fell by a total of 19 percent in the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-11).

Energy use per unit of copper smelting dropped 36 percent, and per ton of cement by 29 percent, while backward enterprises and technologies had been closed down.

During the period, the energy conserved was more than 600 million tons of standard coal, which meant there was an accumulated reduction of carbon dioxide by over 1.5 billion tons.

Europe’s climate policy was presented by Jurgen Lefevere of the European Commission, who said that the EU countries had decoupled emissions from GDP growth, as domestic emissions had fallen 16 percent while GDP grew 40 percent between 1990 and 2009.

He reiterated the EU target of 20 percent to 30 percent emissions reduction by 2020 (compared with 1990) with a reduction of 80 percent to 95 percent by 2050 through a road map that includes emission reduction plans for various sectors, the use of key technologies and investments.

The EC had identified additional investments (needed for climate change actions) of 270 billion euro a year in 2010-50.

This would be more than offset by benefits, including fuel saving of 175 billion euros to 320 billion euros a year; halving of imports by 2050, reducing the bill in that year by billion euros; and health benefits of 88 billion eduros a year in 2050, and 1.5 million net jobs created in 2020.

Despite the positive domestic plans by China and the message from Europe that decoupling growth and emissions is possible, experts also highlighted the huge challenges facing developing countries in reducing their emissions growth while maintaining their ambition of high economic growth.

Some developed countries had not even got their “decoupling” act together yet, as their emissions have continued to climb.

For developing countries, who also have to battle not only poverty but also the increased effects of climate change (such as floods, drought and hurricanes), moving into action to cut emissions will be difficult.

This is where the global climate negotiations come in.

They have to deliver huge emission cuts in developed countries and provide sufficient funds and technologies to developing countries so that they have the atmospheric space and the resources to do their own decoupling of emissions from economic development.

By Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre, a Geneva-based intergovernmental organization of developing countries. ― Ed.

(The Star/Asia News Network)
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