Low Carbon Economy Gaining Momentum in China

Every year after the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) convene during the first week and a half in March to decide the new policies for the upcoming year.  Every year the Two Parties (两会) meeting discusses traditional issues such as health insurance reform and international trade, but this year the government is beginning to earnestly focus its attention on developing a low carbon economy.  The Jiusan Society (九三学社), a political party composed mostly of professors, engineers, doctors, and other intellectuals that follow the direction of the Communist Party, submitted a proposal to push forward the development of a low carbon economy, which was ranked as a high priority proposal by the Chinese Communist Party.

Additionally, at the opening ceremony of the Two Parties (Chinese only), CCP Politburo’s standing committee member, Jia Qin Lin,  emphasized the importance of researching ways to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions, develop a low carbon economy, address climate change, and focus on region-based sustainable development.  At the closing ceremony, the Party also noted the need to strengthen development planning and guidance, improve upon policies, and establish a sound technological and information support system.

At the Copenhagen meeting, China pledged by 2020 to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40-45%, using 2005 as a baseline.  In order to meet this goal, China will continue to introduce new measures to promote low carbon development.  Of China’s total economic investment plan of 4 trillion RMB, 210 billion RMB will be invested in energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and ecological engineering, and 370 billion RMB will be invested in research and design of new technologies.

The government is investing in the following new industries: renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, medicine, bio-engineering, information technology, and aerospace engineering.  The government aims to continue economic growth while changing the structure of China’s energy consumption from heavy dependency on coal to a increasing utilization of renewable energy.

In the last year, ten Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Baoding, Tianjin, and Nanchang have been chosen as low carbon economy pilot cities.   WWF China has partnered with local governments and organizations in Shanghai and Baoding to “explore low carbon development models in different cities, working to improve energy efficiency in industry, construction, and transportation sectors.”  The initiative focuses on supporting research and implementation of policies which contribute to low carbon development, supporting capacity building on energy efficiency, promoting technology transfer, exploring finance mechanisms for renewable energy, and increasing public awareness on climate change.

As Global Environmental Institute’s Energy and Climate Change Program Officer Guo Benchi states: “The reason a concept such as “Low Carbon Economy” has been broadly accepted by the international community is because it has a very fluid interpretation.  LCE is not a goal per se, but more of a direction. If there were a standardized unit of measurement for LCE, for example emissions per unit output, most countries would reject it.  Similarly, China does not have strict definitions for LCE either.”

While there are not strict definitions for LCE, at the Two Parties meeting, the National People’s Congress was in the process of defining LCE, drafting recommendations for a LCE, and planning the overall development of China’s LCE.  Global Environmental Institute’s Guo Benchi also suggests a number of strategic steps to move towards a low carbon economy including: establishing a low carbon foundation for urban planning, improving energy efficiency and implementing a multi-tiered pricing system, and strengthening regulations on use of high-carbon energy sources.

LCE is a new concept gaining momentum in China, and will continue to be a hot topic in the coming years.  For LCE to be a truly meaningful concept, rather than simply a buzzword, the international community should establish an overarching framework to understand LCE and each country can set targets to achieve in the categories of transportation, construction, and industry.

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