What Is China Saying in Copenhagen?
China’s carbon emissions will peak between 2030 and 2040, the country’s science and technology minister [Wan Gang] told the Guardian as the global climate change summit began in Copenhagen.
The precise timing, he said, would depend on uncertain factors such as the pace of China’s economic growth, rate of urbanisation, and level of scientific development. But he added that the earlier date in the range would be possible if China continued to invest in renewable energy, improved energy efficiency, commercialized carbon capture technology, and changed consumer behavior.
Environmental groups gave a cautious welcome to the figure, but said China could be more ambitious if rich nations provide technology and finance. “This is a good thing. This is the first time that a ministerial-level official has confirmed the peak range,” said Yang Ailun of Greenpeace. “If China really makes climate change a priority, they could peak by 2030. And if they get support from developed countries, they could do it even faster.”
An agreement to transfer technology and money from rich to poor nations is one of China’s main goals at the Copenhagen conference. China is keen to get international help to reduce the price of silicon processing for solar panels and to develop ultra-efficient coal gasification plants. It is already collaborating with the U.K. on a project to capture carbon dioxide. In future, Wan said the country will explore the potential for storage or conversion to algae biofuels.
There is an awful lot to unpack in this one brief article. Is this really a “good thing” from the Greenpeace perspective? What shape and scale will the “technology and money” transfers take? Also at Copenhagen, the deputy head of China’s climate delegation has reportedly complained that “neither the U.S., the E.U., nor Japan had offered sufficient cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.”
What do these reports make you feel about the future of governmental efforts to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions? I suspect that, as with other climate issues, one’s incoming biases will dictate whether the glass looks half full or half empty.
In SuperFreakonomics, we express skepticism about the likelihood of meaningful agreements in this realm:
If, say, Australia decided overnight to eliminate its carbon emissions, that fine nation wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of its costly and painful behavior unless everyone else joined in. Nor does one nation have the right to tell another what to do. The United States has in recent years sporadically attempted to lower its emissions. But when it leans on China or India to do the same, those countries can hardly be blamed for saying, Hey, you got to free-ride your way to industrial superpowerdom, so why shouldn’t we?