Rhein on Energy and Climate

In the last few years China, the biggest emitter of green house gases, has been revolutionising its energy sector in a way that deserves respect from the international community. At the Paris Climate Conference it is likely to impress the parties by the resolution, effectiveness and speed of its climate policy. It might even offer the paradigm for emerging countries that the EU has not been able to do.

This would represent a sharp turn-around of its position at the ineffective climate conferences organised by the UN during the last 20 years when China considered climate change and policy as the responsibility of industrial countries like USA and Europe.

Its new approach can be attributed to three main factors:

  • the rising political, economic, ecological and human costs of its almost complete dependence on fossil fuels, estimated by the World Bank at $ 300 billion annually;
  • the desire to loosen its dependency on the production and import of coal, oil and gas;
  • the ambition to maintain its leading position as the major export nation of renewableand nuclear technologies and, in the future, also of clean cars.

China is therefore likely to announce ambitious targets for Paris, both for the medium-term (2020-30) and long-term (2050), accompanied by measures for implementation.

In order to replace its excessive dependence from coal it will continue to expand its capacity of non-fossil energy, from hydro-power to wind, solar, biomass and nuclear.

To that end, it will introduce binding climate targets for the country and each province, ban all coal-fired installations in heavily polluted cities like Beijing, close thousands of wasteful power plants and industrial installations, introduce nation-wide emission trading as of 2016, building on EU experience while making it more effective through establishing higher and variable emission prices.

To curb emissions from the rapidly growing car park, China is on the point of introducing emission standards analogous to those applied by EU and USA. For 2020 it envisages to set fleet emissions at 117 g/km ( 5 litre/100 km). compared to 95 g/km by the EU.

Thanks to this programme, slower economic growth and a progressive departure from energy-intensive industries China appears well-set towards a decoupling of its economic development from coal consumption and C02 emissions. In 2014 its coal production has for the first time registered a small decline! It is therefore likely to achieve its target of de-carbonising 25 per cent of its energy supply by 2025.

Last not least China is once again trying to enhance its overall energy efficiency. 2015 its energy intensity, the amount of energy consumed per GDP unit, should be 16 per cent lower than in 2010.

In launching this broad programme China will shame major polluter countries like Australia, Japan, Russia, Canada and South Africa. Even more important, it should be able to “export” its policy to many emerging countries, something that neither EU nor USA have so far succeeded.

Thus the Paris Conference may against all odds produce more positive results than expected after the lacklustre outcome of the preceding meeting in Lima.

Brussels 12.02.2015 Eberhard Rhein


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