China and Climate Change

China’s efforts to address global warming are a hot issue in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next month. The conservative Washington DC think tank, the Heritage Foundation, has released this special report by its resident China analyst Dr Derek Scissors. His conclusion: “Absent a technological breakthrough, the only way to contain greenhouse gases is to drastically alter Chinese coal use. The inexorable numbers make it clear that all else is merely a distraction.”

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11 Responses to “China and Climate Change”


  1. 1 Liu Ka Yu, Athena 03/11/2009 at 9:56 pm

    It isnt a big surprise to me when I hear that China has to play a key role in global climatic change.

    As china has become the world factory which produces and supplies lots of products to worldwide, China emisssion gases or usage of resources such as coal are expectedly rising.

    But to my knowledge, there are many measures carried out by the Chinese government to deal with the emission of many greenhouse gases, including Sulphur dioixde. But the main drawback of those environmental policies is the lack of enforcement and implementation.

    If we agree that China does play a key role in emission of greenhouse gases which in return change our climate, on one hand, we have to discuss how we can encourage Chinese Government to do more, on the other hand, changing the consumer-led lifestyles solve the problem at the root.

    I am so looking forward to tomorrow’s lecture and see if I can find answers to the global climatic changes.

  2. 2 Veronica Cheung 04/11/2009 at 10:04 pm

    I was surprised to hear the egg and chicken anology suggested by Dr. Liao concerning the United States and China. Both countries are claiming the other one should be the one to act first in reducing greenhouse gases. From this, we could see that there are just too many vested interests hindering the two countries to take a step further. Countries cannot act humanitarily for the Earth as they think they will lose the game among other international players. I think the key resolution for this is to educate the people. After all, people are the ones who can motivate or give pressure to the government to act for environmental issues. The promotion of global citizenship is need for people to realise the responsibility they have for what they are emitting everyday e.g. greenhouse gases. i think this kind of education is still lacking, there may be promotion for people to love their countries, for example in HOng Kong before the news report on television, we will have an advertisement having the national Anthem as the background music to boost the nationalistic feelings of the people. Without doubts there are advertisement asking people to keep Hong Kong clean but a broader message should spread to the community.

  3. 3 Tammy Tsang 05/11/2009 at 10:26 pm

    I think the problem with tackling global warming is that no one is willing to give up their profits or competitiveness in the market for a better environment. Education, as mentioned by Veronica, could be a way of making people understand the impact of global warming and exert pressure on their governments. However I think that nowadays most people already knew of the seriousness of the problem. The reason for not employing more environmental friendly measures is simply that both individuals and governments do not want to pay more than their fellows in seeking to achieve a better environment.

    fter the lecture by Dr. Liao, it seems that technology is not a great problem as China and European countries have developed quite a lot of new technologies which are environmental friendly. The real problem seems to be the high cost of these technologies which deter people from using them. Therefore if we want to people to employ more environmental friendly measures, we would have to either enact binding laws on countries or develop some green measures that would cost less than the pre-existing measures. Governments would then have the incentive to change their behaviour and the environment can also benefit from it.

  4. 4 fong chung lauren 07/11/2009 at 6:59 pm

    Why is that there are so many reports criticizing either US having the highest greenhouse gasses emission per capita, or China having the highest total greenhouse gasses emission? Why can’t we just have a report criticizing both countries? If the mainstream media fails to do so, perhaps social media can take the role for it.

    As mentioned by Dr.Liao, and stated by the article, China leads the world in spending green money on developing the green technology., however, instead of being employed, those technologies are placing in the plant for merely visual consumption.

    In the previous post, Tammy made a good point about enacting laws, but it seems law enforcement is equally important. If the government encourages or subsidises business for green technology, it is also the government’s role to make sure those technologies are actually running.

    When governments are blaming each others, as an individual, maybe we can together put pressure on those corporations who are environmentally irresponsible, no matter how good the bargain is, we can just refuse them.

    For those American who are blaming China, and at the same time keep enjoying their environmentally unfriendly luxury lifestyle, it is time for them to imagine and reflect what if everyone in China is living the same style as them.

  5. 5 Ryan Jacobs 08/11/2009 at 12:08 am

    It’s a mistake to think the Chinese won’t care if America takes the initial steps on climate change. In effect, for any true work on reducing emissions to get done, either China or the US will need to make some sort of initial first steps. This because both states distrust each other. And, while politicians in the states might not like the idea of making initial concessions in order to get something done, we must admit that it will be 10 times easier for us to take important steps to curb emissions, than for China to do so.

    As the article points out China’s has more important environmental concerns, such as water pollution. In regards to negotiations with China, I also think although Carbon Capture Sequestration, although somewhat unsafe and only a temporary fix will need to be implemented by the Chinese is they remain keen on using their vast coal reserves to fuel their industrial growth.

    From an American foreign policy point of view, it also seems necessary to begin attaching caveats to new trade agreements. These caveats can push China in the right direction, at least from America’s point of view, if not from the worlds point of view.

  6. 6 Chow Chui Yin, Kuma 09/11/2009 at 9:09 pm

    I agree with Lauren that China and America have to both act in the face of climate change, and in my eyes, they should work in pretty much the same scale.
    They together make the largest consumer of the world’s energy and create as much pollution to their world. They are the countries with the capacity and market to develop green technology. Their peoples dispose of as much packaging materials from processed food and other things daily. Life style changes have to be in place for both peoples.
    US cannot blame China without blaming its irresponsible consumerism as lots of emission from China comes from producing stuff for selling in Walmarts. China cannot blame US solely and pretend to play the mere role of a developing country that makes stuff to export to developing countries; for China produces many of the things for its internal market as well.
    Consumerism in both countries are enough evidence that these two countries should take up the responsibility to tackle climate change issues as much as other countries do.

  7. 7 Ng Ka Yin, Karen 10/11/2009 at 9:02 pm

    I was quite impressed about one sentence that Dr Liao has mentioned in the previous lecture – “what does China want?”

    Of course, there are a lot of problems that China are facing especially the water shortage problem. How can the world’s climate change problem attract China’s great attention and high address on this problem? What does China want in order to alleviate this problem in its regions?

    I am looking forward to how China’s going to deal with the climate change problem in the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next month.

  8. 8 Lai Hoi Ho Jackson 16/11/2009 at 3:48 pm

    Christine Loh argues that Hong Kong may now be taking more serious steps to address its air quality. But before taking any concrete action, it is very important to set some policy foci for action. I think the first policy focus is that we have to identify the major emission sources. Power sector is undoubtedly the largest source of air pollution but it is not difficult to understand that it is unlikely the sector will play a very active role in combating air pollution. In view of this, I would suggest other major emission sources, including land transportation and marine transportation. In addition to targeting the aforementioned emission sources, another policy focus is that the government should devise a comprehensive process.

    As far as the first policy focus , there are actually a wide range of ways to control or even reduce the air pollution brought by land transportation and marine transportation. For land transportation, a phase-out scheme can be launched in order to replace Euro I and Euro II vehicles with biodiesel ones. Besides, there should be a better coordination between rail and bus/minibus/taxi services and rail structure should be used more extensively in the long run. For marine trasnportation, the government can implement a scheme which encourages lower emissions from ships, including the requirement of switching traditional fuel to low-sulphur fuels for ship engines. The governemnt can implement retrofit programmes so that the new engines are of lower emission.

    For the second policy focus, the government should adopt the latest global air pollution guidelines which reflect the curent knowledge about the impact of air pollution to public health. The recent review on Hong Kong’s current Air Quality Objectives should be appreciated. I hope that following international guidelines could be adopted immediately so that it is easier for the government to have a more accurate standard and better plan to tackle the public health problem brought by air pollution.

    • 9 Lai Hoi Ho Jackson 16/11/2009 at 3:51 pm

      Please forget the above comment because it is for the previous post “Hong Kong and the Environment: Two Views”.

  9. 10 Kevin Chu 06/12/2009 at 11:26 pm

    The writer (Derek Scissors) has repeatedly states, in his article, that ‘unilateral American action to contain the level of greenhouse gases is essentially useless’. I wonder why he makes such contention. According to the United Nations Statistics Division, the CO2 emission per capita of the United States is 19.7 tonnes in 2006, which is among the highest in the world. However, the per capita emission from China is only 4.62 tonnes per capita. CO2 is one of the major greenhouse gases and the high per capita emission of CO2 clearly indicates that the U.S. has a large room for improvement. It is also undeniable that the United States has been one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emission. Given its vast economic influence and huge energy consumption, it is undeniable that the United States plays a central role in reducing emission of greenhouse gases and the action of the U.S. would be highly influential in the international arena.

    On the other hand, the writer has provided some useful insights in saying that in order to ensure that the target could be fulfilled, ‘any agreement must feature international monitoring and a meaningful enforcement mechanism’. Dealing with climate change and reducing emission of greenhouse gases require persistent effort. It cannot depend on one single progressive leader, like Barack Obama, who pledges a large budget in developing new types of renewable energy. Neither could it be achieved by loose cooperation of some international forum. Countries have to regard climate change as a security threat to the whole world and move away from the state-centered chessboard to deal with the problem. Therefore, I entirely agree with what Ryan said in previous post — for any true work to be done on reducing emission, either China and the U.S. has to take the initiatives heading to the ultimate goal.

    There are signs showing that both countries are taking initiatives to deal with problem in Copenhagen Summit. China is going to reduce carbon intensity by 40-45% by the year 2020, compared with 2005 levels. And Barack Obama also pledges a 17% cut in emission of greenhouse gas from 2005 levels by 2020, 30% by 2025, 42% by 2030 and 83% by 2050. It is hoped that in the Copenhagen Summit (6th – 18th December, 2009), the countries will be more committed to reducing emission and, at best, devise a monitoring system to ensure the compliance of the target.

    References
    http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/air_co2_emissions.htm (Statistics of CO2 emission from the United Nations Statistics Division)

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8378890.stm (U.S.’s initiative)

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8380106.stm (China’s initiative)

  10. 11 Triston Xun Cui 08/12/2009 at 6:19 pm

    In D.Scissors article, he continuous repeats the argument that “Even if the U.S. is willing to pay the economic costs, unilateral American action will not work.” Since Karen has already argue against this so invalid that almost ridiculous claim, I would not elaborate further. I have seen no evident supporting that a country even refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol will ever start to reduce its GHG emission as the first one.

    Furthermore, I think Obama, the new president of the US may not bring new position in GHG reduction. Actually, while being asking whether he would try to let the Senate ratify the Kyoto Protocol, he claimed that “it doesn’t make sense for the United States to sign because it is about to end.” When he said that, the Kyoto Protocol still has more than two years to expire.

    Thirdly, the author’s implication that “Because greenhouse gases cannot be contained without restrictions on China that Beijing will find very difficult to fulfill, any agreement must feature international monitoring and a meaningful enforcement mechanism.” is ironic as well. The binding emission reduction regulated by the Kyoto Protocol is not even ratified, not to mention practiced by the US, how come the US imagines China will accept that?

    Fourthly, to reply Ryan’s comment, which suggest that for US, it may be “necessary to begin attaching caveats to new trade agreements” with China, personally I do not believe is things will work in that way. If US will ever do that, I believe China will do the same or put some other caveats as well. It will turns out to be a lose-lose situation.

    Since China’s problem here is its energy usage is heavily depend on coal, 76% coal production and 68% coal consumption by overall fuel type, it is very hard to alter it in a short term. And since the demand of energy resources is still increasing rapidly due to the growth economy, I have no idea how to dramatically alter China’s dependency on coal. It is even harder than to dramatically alter American people’s lifestyle.

    Now China and the US has already taking initiatives to deal with climate change. The US promised for a 17 percent emissions reduction from 2005 level by 2020. However, it just roughly equal to a 4 percent cut from 1990 level. Comparing to EU’s promise to have a 20 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2020, US seems not ambitious enough like other issues happen in this world.

    Situation is the same in China, the largest emitter of GHG in the world in absolute number. China set the target to cut GHG emission as well. It pledged to cut carbon dioxide per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. However, this goal does not mean China would cut its total carbon dioxide by 2020; rather, given the rapidly economic growth rate, China should increase its GHG emission in next decade.

    Personally I am not optimistic in the future of reducing GHG emission by moral requirement. Countries like the US and China need more incentives to do so. They are just too pragmatic to serve the benefit of all human in this world. However, can international community find out the incentive for them to do so?
    I am afraid the tragedy of collective action happen again in the scenario.


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