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Develop Low Carbon Economy with Chinese Characteristics

Date: Aug 10, 2010      Source: IEEPA      

[Introduction] Wang Maolin:  Advisor of World Economic and Environmental Conference, Deputy Chief of Law Committee of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress, Chairman of the Chinese Association of Productivity Science, Chief Vice-chairman of China Society of Urban Economy

Concerning the development of low carbon economy in China, I give some personal opinions for your reference.

As we all know, as the rapid development in industrial economy in the world, enormous increase of population, expanding human desire, unrestrained production and life styles, we are facing such facts: global climate change, as a result of rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the air, emerges and has become a key obstacle for economic sustainable development in the globe; at the same time, fossil energy, as an important and fundamental material for economic and social development, is far from sufficient to maintain sustainable development in the global economy. In recent years, energy shortage and environmental pollution are becoming focal points for world community. The nations in the world are paying close attention to: transforming traditional economic development mode like high energy consumption, high pollution, low benefit, pushing forward "low carbon economy" featured by low energy consumption, low emission, realizing sustainable development.

As the largest developing country in the globe, China has become the largest greenhouse-gas emitter, and is facing energy and environmental problem. Therefore, how to conform to the world development trend, transform radically development mode, push forward resolutely energy conservation and emission reduction, adhere to low-carbon development, and establish society with ecological civilization, are the inevitable selection for China to reach sustainable development. Premier Wen Jiabao in the Copenhagen Summit at the end of last year made a commitment to the world: "by 2020, the carbon-intensity of its economy will fall by 40% to 45%," which highlighted once again the image of a responsible power. As a matter of fact, Chinese government always attaches the importance on the energy conservation and emission reduction, and has set relevant goal since it became the contracting state of Kyoto Protocol in 2005, the goal in the past has been effectively implemented. This year, China further revised and standardized its measures, and made efforts to push forward adjustment and upgrading of industrial structure, transformation of economic development mode, so as to honor its commitment of emission reduction and satisfy the need of sustainable development. China has made outstanding achievement for half a year.

However, while we actively met different kinds of challenges during the economic turmoil, push forward responsibly energy conservation, emission reduction, implement sustainable development strategy, some persons in certain countries questioned China's responsibility in ecology and environment, some overseas organizations even judge everything of developing countries by "low carbon", and made indiscreet remarks on low carbon development strategy in developing countries. I do not think such views are objective or just. All developed countries emitted "high carbon" and destroyed ecological environment in the course of economic development, some of which even shifted high-pollution enterprise to developing countries, and China is also a victim.

It is the last year to realize the target of the “Eleventh Five-Year Plan”, and the "Twelfth Five-Year Plan" is around the corner. In the transitional period, I constantly consider: how to select a feasible road to develop a low carbon economy in China? How to keep up overall and sustainable low-carbon development? By way of browsing numerous information, doing lots of researches and visits, I have obtained preliminary knowledge: the concept of low carbon economic development, proposed by developed countries, is worth praising given the fact that developed countries began to advocate sustainable development mode after they had solved traditional environment problems by industrialization. However, in consideration of no successful mode to refer to in the course of transformation to low carbon economy, the specific development road shall suits to local conditions. China is still a developing country. The industrialization and urbanization are still underway. We shall accelerate the R&D of clean technology and new energy application, and combine the low-carbon economic object with a long-term one.

With the help of extensive discussion, public wisdom and common endeavor, I believe we can find a feasible road to develop low carbon economy in China, and form integral, mature and scientific view. In order to achieve low carbon economical goal with Chinese characteristics, reach more consensus, I think we can discuss further on the 6 aspects, shown as following:  

1. Make it clear that transformation to low carbon economy is inevitable in China. Sustainable-development-oriented energy-conservation and emission-reduction are optimal

As we all know, People's insight on ecology starts from fear, then conquest, finally to harmony, namely, rational development and utilization of resources, moderate consumption, ecological balance and common development. The concept of "low carbon economy" conceived an ideal target for humanity to strive for, and the development of low carbon economy offered practical guidance for China to push forward energy conservation, emission reduction, develop circular economy, building up a harmonious society. However, we must be aware that: due to different development stages between China and developed countries, different basic conditions, the channel and model we adopted to develop low-carbon economy have no comparability with that in western developed countries, where absolute emission-reduction low-carbon model was implemented. As we all know, these developed countries have finished the process of industrialization and urbanization, walked over peak stage of carbon emission, and evidently converted the secondary industry mix through higher environmental standards. Some low-end manufacturing sectors and high-consumption industries like metallurgy and chemical industry have begun to slow down or dwindle in size, some of which have moved to developing countries. At the same time, China now remained in the middle period of industrialization, and was the "world factory" of low-end products. The heavy and chemical industries need further accelerated development, industrialization and urbanization were arduous task to achieve, all of these are inevitable for 1.3 billion Chinese to gain sustainable development, and China has also to experience peak stage of carbon emission which developed countries had never experienced.

In the course of responding to international emission reduction pressure and promoting domestic sustainable development, we need to put into effect the concept of low carbon economy, transform and upgrade traditional industry mix, increase public awareness, actively push forward a circular economy, low carbon economy, ecological economy, and reasonable consumption.

2. Make it clear that energy conservation and emission reduction are key to achieve low carbon development in China, and the government shall play a leading role in implementing them.

As we all know, in terms of low carbon economic development, there are two factors to consider: first, energy conservation and emission reduction, second, clean energy development. At present, developed countries usually advocated the development of clean energy, and are striving for seeking comparative advantage on new energy technology. At the same time, China, as well as most developing countries, will consider both factors. As a result of irrational economic structure, nationwide low-end manufacturing and processing, 60% energy mix from coal, China will constantly optimize economical structure, eliminate industries and products with high consumption, heavy pollution and low return. Currently, the pressing and crucial task China faces is to develop coal-based alcohol ether fuel rather than coal. Therefore, the government shall play a leading role in accelerating energy conservation and emission reduction, transforming industrial structure and development model, earnestly put into practice the goal of energy conservation emission reduction by the State Council, make efforts to build a resource-saving, environment-friendly and harmonious-developing society.

3. Make it clear that the biggest restraint from "high carbon" to "low carbon" in China is old technology, and technological innovation are crucial to achieve low carbon economy

At present, due to an incomplete scientific research system and production system, low product development capacity, insufficient independent innovation experience, deficient core technology and independent intellectual property, relatively low science and technology input, it is difficult to shape up complete chain integrating scientific research, production, sales and service. Under such circumstance, if we focus on complete development of clean energy, as developed countries did, it is unavoidable to spend a large amounts of foreign exchanges in introducing advanced technologies, which is evidently a heavy burden for China whose people are by no means fairly well-off. Currently, inspired by US-led developed countries, many countries viewed the development of new energy industry as key point to win in the competition of global new energy industry. However, in my opinion, we do not pay more attention in this regard and ignore pressing task, and shall push forward gradually the development of new energy industry according to the practical conditions.

4. Make it clear that there are many problems we face to develop low carbon economy, and we shall transform and upgrade traditional industries, foster emerging industry by low carbon technology and industry policy

As we all know, it seems a simple process to capture and store carbon dioxide, but it needs at least US$50-60/t, and is a expensive technology even for the US. "the present Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology adds US$ 1 billion investment and reduces 1/4 energy output to coal fired power plants, whose cost is gigantic", said professor Steven Chu, Chinese-born American physicist and Nobel laureates in Physics. In addition, solar energy, which is universally recognized as clean energy, has also brought power consumption and pollution, because the polysilicon, a material for manufacturing solar panel, has high energy consumption and heavy pollution. Aside from that, overall power consumption will reach 2.2 mw through the process from industrial silicon production to solar cell, and the derivative tetrachloride during production process is a kind of poisonous liquid with strong corrosion. Therefore, we must be objective on the issue of low carbon technological development, which also involved in each sector and industry in national economy, had bearing on the adjustment of economic structure, transformation and upgrading of traditional industry and cultivation of emerging industry, as well as international competition. In the following 20 to 30 years, the predominant position of coal, despite a bit drop in energy structure proportion, will not alter. We shall attach importance on the development of clean coal technology and coal-based alcohol ether industry, push forward diversified development with the coal as the cornerstone.

5. Cope with the relationship between low carbon strategy and economic development in a proper way

The development of low carbon economy truly provides us with a chance to overtaking other countries. However, we must not neglect practical conditions, and shall properly cope with the relationship between development and stability, overall planning and harmony, economy and society, resource and ecology. The decision makers shall always keep clear mind. We do not slow down the economic development for the sake of low carbon economy, and do not be separated from reality. We shall properly cope with the relationship between economic development and low carbon strategy, and consider them in an overall way.

6. We shall take into full consideration countermeasures on protective trade measure like carbon tariff

The development of low carbon economy represents the direction in the future. We must adhere to self innovation, scientific planning and positive input. However, under the context of economic turmoil, the international trade protectionism has resumed again, we must take into full consideration countermeasures on protective trade measure like carbon tariff, avoiding unnecessary loss in the global economic game.

In the end, I again make it clear: response to global climate change is a worldwide responsibility, which needs common endeavor of all nations and enterprises. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the developed countries held the obligation to transfer technology to developing countries, but the reality is far from that. In my opinion, such transfer is necessary and shall be done for free. As we all know, most carbon dioxide in the air was emitted by developed countries in the process of economic development, and the developed countries shall bear corresponding responsibility in helping developing countries develop low carbon economy, moreover, many products and industries with heavy pollution and high emission from developed countries have shifted to developing countries. While setting standard of carbon dioxide emission, developed countries shall consider the practical conditions in the developing countries and take corresponding measures. I believe, the global sustainable development will not be achieved until all nations join in and perform common responsibilities.

The above-mentioned views are not all-inclusive, and are offered for discussion and advice.

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