ClimateWorks is a non-profit network of policy and technical experts working with governments to reduce carbon emissions without compromising economic vitality. The group’s focus is on the big sectors and regions where most emissions originate.
Naturally, a big target is China. Matt Lewis of ClimateWorks was recently in China producing a series of videos showing some of the impact of their work. It’s an interesting look at some surprisingly positive developments in major sectors in China – where both the Chinese government and industry have managed to dramatically improve the efficiency of energy use as well as reducing carbon output.
I asked Matt how seriously we can take what Chinese industry and government tell us when it comes to climate change. His response follows the video, which is well worth 5 minutes of your time:
Nick Aster: Matt, we’re talking about China… lots of great rhetoric here, but are these people speaking freely for themselves? Or is the government pressuring them?
A common question – let me back up and give a quick primer on how – when it comes to climate and energy policy and politics in general – China is different from the West. First of all, the central government and ministries in Beijing are run by engineers and scientists. Largely due to the professional credentials of the average senior Chinese politician, there are no protracted debates in China about whether or not climate science is a “hoax.” The most senior leaders in the Chinese government emphatically believe the science, as do most scientists globally, and have taken the decision to craft a meaningful, national policy response.
So China’s central government has set a national agenda with targets for reducing pollution and cutting carbon emissions. This agenda includes policies like aggressive renewable energy targets – 15 percent of all energy (not just electricity) from renewables by 2020 – and the “Top 1000 program“, which is on track to reduce industrial emissions by 250 million tons by the end of 2010. By the way, the industrial emissions reduction figure has been verified by scientists at California’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab. This is real stuff; your readers can get in-depth info on this from WRI’s ChinaFAQs site.
Of course, the actual measures to achieve these targets have to be implemented at the provincial level, and so provincial leaders are under huge pressure to make things happen quickly. I’ve had colleagues tell me stories of provincial officials from largely industrial provinces who know little about renewables, showing up at conferences to find expert technical support; these officials know that if they don’t make their targets, they’ll “lose face” in the eyes of the central government. Imagine a conservative American politician from a coal state showing up at a cleantech conference and begging for help to grow his state’s renewables industry and reduce pollution from coal plants, and you get a sense of how different things are in China. China’s provincial leaders are hungry for this kind of technical support, they want to make their targets.
For the videos, we traveled to some of these provinces, and spoke with provincial officials and some of the executives of the companies that are benefiting from these policies. What was especially interesting to me is that even the industrial concerns are benefiting, because the policies include strong financial incentives for pollution-reduction technologies which, in turn, reduce energy and compliance costs. Since I conducted the interviews myself, I can vouch for the fact that we had no government “minder” with us on site; there was no one filtering our questions, or telling us what we could and could not see – in this regard, China is far more open than many of your readers are probably aware. We sent some questions in advance so our subjects could be prepared, but I was allowed to conduct wide-ranging interviews and do follow-up questions based on what I wanted to ask. No one hesitated to answer.
The reality is that China is already suffering greatly from horrible air pollution, and stands to suffer even more from the consequences of dangerous climate change. The droughts and floods that we hear about are already happening in China – they don’t need to be pushed by the West to take action. They recognize that they have to address their own very serious environmental challenges, and dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and are proceeding to do so.
What the videos are really about is giving westerners a window into a fast-developing country that is responding to climate change in a serious way; in fact, China is so serious that they stand to be the world’s leading market for and manufacturer of renewable energy technologies within the next year or two. Through these videos, I wanted to show people what this looks like on the ground, and get people to ask themselves the following question: if China, as a developing country and the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, is serious about addressing climate change, and is taking aggressive steps to reduce emissions, what are we waiting for?
We’ll have a second ClimateWorks video on 3p next week!