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China looks to California to Model Climate Change Strategies PDF Print E-mail
By Alison Loomis | Friday, 09 May 2008


With a vigilant world eye on Beijing’s “green” summer Olympics, China opportunely announces its new climate strategy agreement with the United Nations Development Program and California.

The four-page agreement signed on Earth Day will mobilize California’s public agencies and encourage private entities to share research, policy initiatives and technological innovations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions with Chinese provincial governments.

"I think it will help show them they can indeed reach set targets and move forward on environmental protection and maintain a strong economy as California has," says Linda Adams, California's Environmental Protection Agency secretary.

Studies released last year by the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conclude that China has not only overtaken the United States to become the
world’s largest source of greenhouse gases, but its emissions have been growing at a rate that far surpasses the efforts of all wealthy nations to decrease theirs.

Scientists say that in order to avoid a so-called ‘tipping point’ in greenhouse gas emissions leading to catastrophic warming, China’s runaway emissions must be solved.

Last week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a long time critic of the Bush Administration’s refusal to sign international commitments to cut emissions such as the Kyoto Protocol, said California's agreement with China recognizes that climate change requires a global solution.

"America has to lead, and we are doing so with or without Washington," Schwarzenegger said in a news release. "California is not waiting for the federal government to take action."

In a recent US-China Green Energy Conference held in San Francisco, Dian Grueneich, Commissioner at California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) states, “We will be translating our energy efficiency package [a critical component of AB 32] in Mandarin.”  AB 32, California’s aggressive Global Warming Act, will thus serve as a model for the Chinese government.

By working with China to plan and implement energy efficiency programs that model California programs, both private and public entities in California hope to better protect the US, conserve global resources, and help China develop without destroying their fragile environment.

Even California’s utilities are partaking in greening China’s economy. PG&E, who previously signed an MOU with China, is also participating in the
U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Alliance along with California’s two other major investor-owned energy utilities—Sempra and SoCal Edison—says Steve Kline, Vice President, Corporate Environmental and Federal Affairs at PG&E.

“We all need to be working together—to leapfrog together—on energy efficiency, “ says Grueneich.

“China’s future depends on what happens in the world. If the US pursues these technology measures, I’m sure China will do it,” says Zhoa Dadi, director of China Energy Research Institute.

Jared Blumenfeld, San Francisco’s Department of Environment Director, stressed the interdependent responsibilities of US-China cooperation at the
Ecocity World Summit 2008 last week in San Francisco. “Although China is overtaking the US on CO2 emissions, the US is still largely responsible for China’s CO2 since our factories are over there.”

Other Global Incentives to Help China Go Green
Looking beyond energy efficiency and greenhouse gases, Janet Larson, Director of Research at Earth Policy Institute forecasts, “In 2030, China will have 1.1 billion cars…requiring all China’s rice fields to be paved in order to support these cars.”

“We need system change not technology improvements,” says Dadi. “Our infrastructure, construction, urban planning and consumption patterns all need better designs.”

According to the U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Alliance, China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. Estimates suggest that up to 400,000 people a year die from pollution-related causes.  Studies have found that China’s enormous amounts of sulfur and ash pollution derived from coal-burning power plants not only cause acid rain to fall on more than 30% of China, but is
being carried by the wind to Japan, South Korea, and as far as to the west coast of the U.S. While the Chinese government officially denies polluting California's air, indications are that more than 10% of California's air pollution originates in China.

Nor is air the only ecosystem affected. One of the more frightening facts points to at least 40 percent of the mercury in U.S soil coming from Asia, predominantly China.

“Chinese pollution is already starting to make it harder and more expensive for West Coast cities to meet stringent air quality standards,” said Professor Cliff of the University of California, slowing four decades of progress toward cleaner air.

In more controversial headlines, China’s pollution has set international panic amongst some athletes hoping to participate in this summer's Olympic Games taking place in Beijing . Although the International Olympic Committee has said the pollution will be controlled before the onset of the Olympics and would not endanger their health, the chemicals within Beijing’s smog blanket are presently at levels five times higher than safety standards set by the World Health Organization.

Several athletes have said they are considering wearing masks during competition, and others with asthma, like Ethiopia's Haile Gebreselassie, the current marathon world-record holder, have said they won't be competing at all.

Due to the growing international criticism over China’s pollution and greenhouse gases, China hopes that its new agreement with California and the U.N. will send a positive message to the world.

But Will China Follow Through?
Ultimately, the real test is whether or not China can aggressively and sustainably curb their emissions after the summer Olympics. And although the new agreement is being more widely publicized, it's not the first time Californians have worked with the Chinese. Behind the scenes, scientists from UC Berkeley have quietly been sending advisors to China for the past 20 years to establish dialogue amongst Chinese officials and specialists from Lawrence Berkeley lab, as well as the state’s Energy Commission, Air Resources Board, and Public Utilities Board.

The Energy Foundation they created has successfully advised Chinese government officials to set up pro-conservation electricity rate structure, cleantech tax incentives, tighter vehicle emissions regulation, stronger building insulation standards, Energy Star home appliance labeling systems, and more. 

“China has set one of the world's most ambitious targets for energy conservation: a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases of each service and good between 2005 and 2010,” says Dadi.  “They have also set a 4 percent annual reduction in energy intensity”—which was established by President Huu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in the past year.

China is also no stranger to clean technology.  Professor Zhao Zhang Xian, Vice Chairman of China Association of Science & Technology (CAST) says China is a top producer and consumer of solar hot water heaters. They are also
the world's largest manufacturer of solar photo-voltaic products - though 90% are for export, mainly to Europe - and the fourth largest producer of wind-turbine technology.

Xian further argues that decentralized power sources, particularly wind power, hold very promising low cost alternatives for Chinese consumption once smart grid and energy storage applications are available.

Despite the scores of measures and clean technologies, China has failed to achieve even the modest goal of 4% energy efficiency. Mark Levine, director of the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says, “Although Chinese are taking big policy steps to get them off the energy trajectory that they’ve been on, a lot more is needed.”

Furthermore, with an economy growing 10 percent a year and with energy consumption climbing even faster, scalability-wise, a conservation target amounting to 3.7 percent a year does not keep pace.

Critics point to a
misconception of a powerful central government , when in actuality, China still functions as it did in China’s pre-communist past, when local warlords ruled far-flung provinces. “The central government has been making some very sincere and real attempts to rein in energy use, but levers it has to control the economy are a lot weaker than most Americans may think,” explains Yang Fuqiang, who is vice president of the Energy Foundation.

Speaking at the recent Energy Crossroads conference at Stanford University , Sheldon Xie, director of climate change mitigation programs for Shanghai and Beijing, said that incentives of local governments are not aligned with those of the central government. Because local industry yields local revenue, city and regional governments loathe cracking down on their main source of income, while corrupt government officials are routinely paid off. Xie says the central government needs to strengthen local regulations, and use centrally paid regulators.

Certainly China faces formidable challenges in carrying out her ambitious environmental goals. But even more certain is that we are all dependent on how well she succeeds.



photo courtesy of Green Stock Media.

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