China's low carbon future at critical crossroads, says new report

Apr 15, 2010

Beijing - If the negative impacts of climate change and environmental degradation are not adequately addressed in China, there is a danger that three decades of social and economic achievements may be reversed, according to the latest China Human Development Report. China’s most strategic choice is to embark on a low carbon development path that will preserve and increase its human development achievements in the years to come, says the publication which was commissioned by the UN Development Programme in partnership with Renmin University of China.

Launched in the lead-up to this month’s planned Washington climate talks, China and a Sustainable Future, Towards a  Low Carbon Economy and Society breaks new ground in linking economic growth, carbon emissions and human development in China. It offers policy options for a country that will see the migration of nearly 350 million rural Chinese into urban areas over the next two decades.

“China is at a critical juncture when the business as usual growth model is not sufficient to the country’s emerging challenges and pressures,” says Khalid Malik, UN Resident Coordinator in China. “The shift to a low carbon development pathway is imperative as China balances further economic development with environmental sustainability and the need to respond to the threat of climate change,” he continued.

“Most of the energy-consuming assets needed between now and 2020 have yet to be built,” concludes the report. “China’s success in moving towards low carbon development will be shaped by the types of investments, choices of technologies and organizational decisions that are made in the near future.”

As urbanization rate grows, the country will “need to introduce and enforce strict standards of energy efficiency for building and electronic appliances, reducing carbon emissions from the residential sector,” continues the publication. It will also need to “vigorously develop public mass transportation to prevent a massive increase in energy demand and carbon emissions from the transport sector.”

Furthermore, “the disparities in carbon emissions among provinces, corresponding to different economic development, structure of the economy, level of technology and regional economic strategies require diverse policy objectives and priorities throughout the country”.
Before the UN Summit in Copenhagen last year, China made a commitment to lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020. The publication argues that China faces “no other choice” but to shift to a low carbon pathway when defining future social and economic development agendas. The authors assert that the low carbon model may bring temporary risks such as job losses, higher prices and fiscal revenue shortfalls. Advantages might include long lasting green job opportunities, greater competitiveness in new technology, technological innovation, improved standing in the world, and reduced harm to human health and the protection of vital ecosystems.

The report says that China’s low carbon policies should be used to foster the transformation of economic growth and industrial upgrading. This means “accelerating the phase-out of obsolete production, equipment, industries and products.” It urges the development of low carbon energy such as wind, biomass and solar energy, and priority given to energy-saving in production and construction. Moreover, the country “needs to make greater efforts in training, institution building, R&D and oversight in the low carbon field,” asserts the publication.

The report calls for “setting the stage for the introductions of a cap and trade system in the medium and long term, based on a national carbon intensity target, and an enhanced system for monitoring and enforcement.” It also recommends “establishing a credible and robust system for GHG accounting and statistics as a basis for policy-making as well as for monitoring and enforcement.”

The authors suggest strengthening the coordination and integration of policies that address poverty alleviation, reduction of greenhouse gases and adaptation to climate change. Moreover, fiscal and other policies are needed to attract technical and management talent and foster innovation. The report outlines the need for improved education programs in energy saving and emissions reduction to raise public awareness of the benefits of a low carbon path and shifts to sustainable lifestyles.

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