Tag Archives: global warming

China’s Northern Voyagers

China's icebreaker, Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, seen off the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, after completing its first voyage across the Arctic Ocean
Mariners first sought a northern passage across the roof of the world from Europe to the riches of the Orient centuries ago. So it is a surprise, to this Bystander at least, that what is said to be the first Chinese ship to make the voyage in the opposite direction has only just done so. The Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, an icebreaker in the commission of the Polar Research Institute of China and which also has the distinction of being the world’s largest non-nuclear icebreaker, arrived in Iceland earlier this week after sailing north along the coast of Russia and then weaving its way through five of the seas that comprise the Arctic Ocean. The photo above shows the Xue Long off the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik. More photographs here.

Global warming is opening up the Arctic Ocean as a feasible trade route between Asia and Europe, one that is much shorter and less pirate infested than going west via the Moluccan Straits, the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa. It is also a region rich in natural resources. Russia’s state oil and gas companies, Gazprom and Rosneft, are already active on the Arctic shelf. China has joined the group of countries seeking to set limits on the extent of continental shelf economic rights. Meanwhile, Beijing is putting resources behind improving its deep seabed exploration capabilities.

A direct sea lane between China and Western Europe would enhance Iceland’s position as strategic partner for Beijing. It was there that Premier Wen Jiabao started his tour of northern Europe in April this year. Five years ago the two countries talked about free-trade agreement. Had it happened it would have been China’s first with a European country. The two are cooperating on developing geothermal technologies and resources in China and Africa.

China has a hard scientific interest in the Arctic. Recent research suggests that rapid sea ice melt there could be causing more cold, snowy winters in China, as it is in northern Europe and North America, by altering the jet stream. The Polar Research Institute founded its Yellow River research station in the Arctic as long ago as 2003. The Xue Long’s current trip is pitched as one of atmospheric and oceanographic research. China’s first observation buoy in the region will be set up during a later leg of the voyage.

Yet geo-politics are never far away. The attention given to last year’s flap over a proposed purchase of one of the largest tracts of land on Iceland by property developer and Icelandophile, Huang Nubo, seen as a beachhead for greater Chinese presence on the island, underlined international misgivings about China’s interest in the region. Beijing has also applied for membership of the Arctic Council, the intergovernmental group that oversees management of the region and comprises the eight powers that actually have territory there: Washington, Moscow, Ottawa, Reykjavik, Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Beijing is not the only outsider that wants in. Tokyo and Seoul have also applied for membership as has the EU as a group, and New Delhi come to that. The outsiders will inevitably have different interests from the locals, potentially changing the scope of the Council. At best Beijing can hope to be given observer status next year, when the applications will be considered. Regardless, Beijing is expanding its polar research program and building a second icebreaker. Few can doubt that China’s mariners, fishermen, scientists and petroleum engineers will be plying the increasingly less icy waters of the Arctic in ever greater number.

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China and U.S. Take Their Climate Accord And Go Home

The Copenhagen Accord struck by China, the U.S., Brazil, India and South Africa on climate change smacks of declaring victory and going home. It is not legally binding. It does no more than recognize the need to limit global temperatures rising to no more than 2℃ above pre-industrial levels. It sets collective goals for rich nations to fund poor nations’ adjustment to going greener that are so broad as to be meaningless. It puts the monitoring of developing nations’ progress in their own hands. It does nothing of substance on promoting carbon markets beyond saying “various approaches” will be pursued. Even then the accord hasn’t got the backing of the all the participants in the UN’s Copenhagen climate conference and the meeting as a whole did no more than ‘note’ it.

From Beijing’s point of view, it is job done. It has not had to accept a binding treaty, and the verification process for whatever voluntary steps its takes to control greenhouse gas emissions will be in its own hands. (It has set itself a target of cutting the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for every unit of GDP by up to 45%.) Beijing will also have taken note of how effective its alliance with India has been in dealing with the U.S. But while the accord serves both countries interests the criticism from developing nations that China and India have sought to portray themselves as championing must have stung, whatever spin the propaganda bosses put on it.

The UN now has a year to salvage something from the rubble of Copenhagen that can turn the five-way accord in to a U.N-wide binding treaty before the climate conference reconvenes in Mexico City in December 2010.  Whether anyone in Beijing or Washington for that matter really cares is another matter.

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China Commits To Its First Firm Carbon Target

If the U.N.’s Copenhagen Climate Summit does only one thing, it will have been to get China to commit to its first firm target to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the goal that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will take to Copenhagen doesn’t amount to much — to achieve by 2020 a 40%-50% cut in the 2005 levels of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP produced.

Carbon intensity goals are open-ended in as much as the volume of greenhouse gas emissions is a function of growth and energy efficiency. Beijing plans to have more of both, so its total emissions will likely rise. Also the goal is in line with what is already happening in China after a five-year drive to become more energy efficient.  It is already almost half way to hitting it.

That is not to say that any target isn’t welcome; it certainly is to the organizers of the flagging Copenhagen conference, who in the past 48 hours have now got the world’s two biggest polluting nations, the U.S. and China, to agree to at least nominal targets. China’s announcement is also a shot in the arm for carbon trading markets, another area where Beijing thinks it can steal a march over Washington.

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Poor Rich Country

There are lies, damn lies and statistics, as the old saw has it. Then there is the World Bank’s shrinking of its estimate of the size of China’s economy.

The new number shows gross domestic product at $5.3 trillion in 2005 or 40% lower than previously estimated. It is based on purchasing power, and is intended to provide much needed up-to-date comparative growth data between economies. It still shows China as the second biggest economy after the U.S. (GP of $12 trillion) but with a GDP per capita at $4,091 of only 9.8% of America’s. China’s share of world GDP falls to 10% compared to 15% under the traditional measure, which does currency conversions at prevailing market rates.

The Bank’s president Robert Zoellick, who has been in China this week, says that the bank is drawing no policy conclusions from the revisions. But they could effect everything from China’s voting rights at the International Monetary Fund to how much aid and investment it gets from international institutions because it is poorer than thought — and especially when it comes to the adaption funds discussed at the recent UN conference on climate change in Bali by which rich countries would provide developing countries with finance and technology to help with the practical and social costs of reducing carbon emissions.

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