Country vows to 'blaze new path to industrialization' through green energy investments but does not commit to greenhouse gas emissions targets; follows announcement of plans to increase nuclear power use 20-fold by 2030
According to the Guardian (UK), China unveiled its first national plan to address climate change on Monday, vowing to "blaze a new path to industrialization."
Despite a commitment to meeting a larger share of China's rapidly growing energy needs with more green power - wind, solar and hydropower - and increase energy efficiency and reforestation efforts, the world's second largest and fastest growing emitter of greenhouse gases refused to accept binding emissions reduction targets.
The announcement of the 62-page action plan appeared aimed at deflecting criticism of China's growing emissions ahead of the G8+6 summit of major industrial nations held in Germany this week. Climate change and the future of international agreements aimed at addressing the challenge after the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 will be a major theme of the G8 summit.
In addition to increased energy efficiency, renewable energy and reforestation efforts, the report, initially due out in April, pledged more research into energy-saving technology, improvements in water resource management, and public education campaigns to raise awareness of the issue.
On the contentious issue of greenhouse gas emissions, the plan promised "significant achievements" but made no commitment to a quantifiable goal, the Guardian reports.
"We must reconcile the need for development with the need for environmental protection," Ma Kai, the head of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters.
"In its course of modernisation, China will not tread the traditional path of industrialisation, featuring high consumption and high emissions. In fact, we want to blaze a new path to industrialisation."
As the Guardian points out, and I have discussed at much length in past posts (see previous 'Eye on China' series posts), if China realizes this goal, it would represent a remarkable turnaround for the rapidly industrializing country. China's double-digit growth spurt has come at a huge environmental cost: most of the country's rivers are now dangerously polluted and many are overdrawn for irrigation; the air quality in dozens of major cities is consistently hazardous to human health; and industry is currently so inefficient that China uses seven times as much energy as Japan for each dollar of GDP.
The country's rapid growth and reliance on coal for 70% of its energy needs have it on track to overtake the US as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, possibly as early as this year (see previous post). The report admitted that reliance on coal will "not change substantially for a long-term period in the future" despite efforts to enhance renewable energy, build nuclear plants (see more below) and speed up utilization of coal bed methane.
Still, despite China's rapidly growing emissions, the carbon footprint of the average Chinese citizen is less than a fifth of that of an American, the Guardian reports, and just over a third of a European's. China has repeatedly argued that it had a right to continued economic development in order to improve the standards of living of its billion plus citizens and has consistently resisted binding emissions reductions targets in international negotiations.
Nevertheless, China has come under increasing pressure to act to address climate change and it's now significant contribution to the problem, particularly given the huge economic advances it has made since 1997 when Beijing argued during Kyoto treaty talks that developing countries should be exempt from mandatory cuts because they needed room to grow and that developed nations were to blame for historic contributions to global warming.
Mr Ma repeated this line on Monday, saying wealthy nations must take more responsibility because they had been pumping industrial gases into the atmosphere for 200 years.
He rejected an EU proposal - expected to be debated at a special session of the G8 summit - for the extent of global warming to be limited to a rise of 2C by 2050. "I fear this lacks a scientific basis," Mr Ma said, despite the fact that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recently released Fourth Assessment Report clearly supports the EU position (see previous post).
Mr Ma gave qualified support to George Bush's proposals last week for a voluntary pact among the planet's biggest emitters, saying it was a "positive change". Thankfully though, Mr Ma remarked that Bush's proposal should not displace the main UN treaty on global warming, the Kyoto protocol.
As the Guardian notes, most of China's climate change plan restates existing goals, including a 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2010 and more than doubling the use of renewable energy by 2020 (see previous posts here and here). Still, this is the first time these various efforts have been presented in a more comprehensive action plan to address climate change.
Both the UN and Greenpeace welcomed it as a step forward.
Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, said: "We cannot ask for more at this stage."
He said China and other developing nations should focus on building greener energy sources such as methane power plants. "The infrastructure now being built will serve for the next 30 to 50 years," he said.
Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China's climate change campaigner, said: "This is a first. It shows China has done its homework about what needs to be done. Even though the plan is mostly a compilation of existing policies, that shouldn't detract from its significance or the current level of effort."
China Plans to Increase Nuclear Power Use 20-fold by End of 2030
The Chinese government plans to boost the country’s nuclear power generation capability by between 15 and 20 times its current level by the end of 2030, according to a speech made last week by a Chinese official close to the plan.
Currently, China has 10 nuclear reactors, which are capable of generating 8 gigawatts (GW, 1 GW = 1,000 megawatts). The National Development and Reform Commission, which administers China’s energy policy, plans to increase nuclear power generation to between 1200 GW and 160 GW, according to the official.
China has previously announced that it wanted to up nuclear power output to 40 GW by the end of 2020, Green Car Congress reports. To attain its goal under the new plan, China would need to build in excess of 100 nuclear reactors, each capable of generating 1 GW, over the next 20 years.
If the plan is realized, China would become the world’s largest generator of nuclear power, surpassing Japan, France and the United States.
Increasing the nation's reliance on nuclear power would likely offset the use of coal-fired power plants, decreasing the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Such large-scale use of nuclear power would carry with it waste disposal and security issues however, and it remains to be seen how China will deal with these problems on this large scale.
[Image source: NaturalHistoryMag.com]