What Does China Think About Climate Change and Copenhagen?

China’s Climate Change Minister Xie Zhenhua gave a speech January 9 at Beijing University’s Guanghua School of Management’s annual New Year’s Symposium (see the original Chinese text on the Sina website, but to assist our non-Chinese speaking readership we also provide our own informal translation in the ChinaFAQs library).

The most striking aspect of this speech is the powerful case Minister Xie makes for the urgency of China’s pursuing a low carbon pathway for its own interest. He emphasizes that China faces resource constraints, pollution and poverty, and that a low-carbon, energy efficient economy makes sense. He also acknowledges the importance of improving measurement, reporting and transparency to help ensure effective domestic results and the need for China to report these results both domestically and to the international community.

Xie also sees China’s choice in terms of international competitiveness. He describes a future carbon-constrained world where the countries that have developed the best low-carbon technologies will be the clear winners.

Xie also lauds the domestic policies of other countries – particularly Japan’s efforts to improve energy efficiency and the investments in new technology made under last year’s stimulus package.

But Xie is also clearly concerned about the tenor of the international discussion and the motives of his negotiating partners. He is concerned by pressure for emissions reductions that he thinks will be too rapid for China to manage without impinging on its economic development. Xie is quite frank in seeing the negotiations as in part about “who pays,” and he describes the complex concerns that many countries have about competitiveness and the agreement from a Chinese perspective.

It is worth reading this speech to its end to see how these concerns about international rivalries are ultimately answered by Xie, by focusing on China’s domestic need for a cleaner, more efficient economy. Xie goes into quite a bit of detail in how China’s 40-45% carbon-intensity goal will be translated into provincial, local and sector-specific targets. He is uncomfortable with international verification, but he emphasizes that China needs this data for itself. He also encourages more policy research from China’s universities and think tanks.

Photo by frankartculinary, courtesy of a Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic.