China plans to run its pilot carbon trading market for three to five years before extending it nationally. That sliver of information comes from Su Wei, the government’s chief climate negotiator, speaking at the international climate talks in Durban, South Africa to devise a successor to the Kyoto accord. As we noted ahead of those talks, two provinces, Guangdong and Hubei, and five cities, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai, will comprise the initial market, which is likely to start trading in 2013. But details still remain nearly as sketchy as they were in Beijing’s recent white paper on climate change.
Meanwhile, at the same meeting, officials have indicated that Beijing could set absolute caps on its carbon emissions by as soon as 2020. This would be a significant shift from China’s position that emission reduction targets should be set in terms of energy intensity (the amount of energy used to create a unit of GDP). There is a danger of reading too much into conference comments this early, but they could imply that Beijing is preparing to take the initiative in breaking the deadlock with the U.S. over which country moves first in cutting fossil fuel emissions, and in making an early play for the capital and technology that will be needed for developing nations to develop low-carbon economies.
China is a polluted place but getting less so. That according to Germanwatch, a German environment watchdog that releases an annual ranking of the most environmentally friendly industrialized and developing countries.
Its latest annual Climate Change Performance Index, which covers 56 countries that account for 90% of global carbon dioxide emissions and was released at the U.N. conference on climate change now going on in Bali, puts China at 40th, up four places from last year. For the record, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are at the bottom of the list.
China’s advance up the ranking has caused some surprise. The report’s explanation:
It can be explained by its recently strong domestic and international engagement for renewable energy, the new climate protection regulations in the transport sector and its nowadays relatively constructive role in the UN climate negotiations.
China’s ranking also owes more to promise than performance. It scores highly on the policy-making component in the Index’s methodology, offsetting to some extent the drag of a poor trends score. Beijing has set a target of generating 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010, ordered some industries to cut consumption by 20% and is encouraging the countries vast bureaucracy to stop driving gas-guzzling cars. (A breakdown of China’s score is here.)
This is driven in part by old-fashioned concerns of energy security and worsening droughts, floods and air quality, with the internal political fears that raises for the government.
But China is also winning praise at the Bali conference for the constructive role it is playing in contrast to its past stance. It has taken the lead among developing countries in calling for rich nations to speed up the transfer of cleaner technologies to help shift away from fossil fuels, and for developing nations not to have hard emission-cut targets imposed on them.
As a successor to the decade-old Kyoto agreement is taking shape, China is looking the gloablist and the U.S. the obstructionist.