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David ConcarClimate Change Counsellor, Beijing
Guest blog by Andrew MacKenzie, Second Secretary Climate Change, British Embassy Beijing.
The British Foreign Secretary William Hague delivered a major speech on climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on the 27 September. For me, this speech really shows not just the importance the UK’s government places on tackling climate change, but the importance of climate change as a global diplomatic issue. In it the Foreign Secretary states "unless we take robust and timely action to deal with it, no country will be immune to its effects”, and “a world which is failing to respond to climate change is one in which the values embodied in the UN will not be met. It is a world in which competition and conflict will win over collaboration."
Of particular interest is the part on China, where he speaks of the opportunities for Europe – China collaboration and the vital importance of China embracing a low carbon economy, not only for China but the whole world:
“A key challenge for Europe is to build an economic partnership with China that reinforces the steps China is taking towards a low carbon economy. These steps include its recent announcement of the five provinces and eight cities that have been designated as China’s Low Carbon Pilots. Together these pilots cover 350 million people - so an ambitious approach to these schemes, tenaciously implemented, could provide a critical boost to global confidence in the concept of low carbon development and help put China on the path to sustainable prosperity. It could also produce huge two-way investment and partnership opportunities. Europe should place itself at the heart of these, working with China to maximise the ambition and the opportunities and to build the shared technology standards that will shape the global low-carbon market.”
You can read the full version of the Foreign Secretary’s speech here. It's a fascinating read, and as he pointedly says: “A successful response to climate change will not only stabilise the climate but open the way to a future in which we can meet our needs through cooperation…We have to get this right. If we do, we can still shape our world. If we do not, our world will determine our destiny. “
Experts in China have inevitably been looking at these events, comparing them with historical trends and asking to what extent - and with what level of confidence - they can be linked to global warming. The official verdict from China's National Climate Center, as reported by the China Daily, seems clear: China's weather has been extremely abnormal this year as a result of climate change and rising temperatures.
I recommend the article to anyone looking for a summary of the impacts of this year's weather events in China (a Chinese translation can be found here). It also explains the steps China's top climate experts are taking to enhance their technical assessments of climate impacts. The UK, through the Hadley Centre and a DFID adaptation programme, has been actively cooperating with China on research aimed at developing a better understanding of climate impacts. This year's events are a stark reminder of the importance of such collaborations.
Guest blog from Zara Arshad, Regional Greening Manager, British Embassy Beijing
The UK delivers more joint policy and engages in more educational work with China on climate change and low carbon development than any other country. What is the value in this, however, if we are not leading by example?
Since January 2010, I have been working as Greening and Environmental Support Officer at the British Embassy, Beijing to reduce our carbon footprint. Internally, we like to refer to this as “walking the walk” as well as “talking the talk” – simply put, we are trying to practice what we preach. Now, I have been appointed as Regional Greening Manager for North East Asia. In essence, this is an extension of my previous role, whereby I will be looking to expand greening good practice in UK diplomatic Posts across the entire northeast region; not just in Beijing, but also in Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.
Under my previous role, one of the first things we did was to sign up to the 10:10 campaign in a pledge to reduce the Embassy’s carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. The campaign has also allowed us to foster dialogue with other Beijing-based 10:10 organisations, such as the British Council and Greening the Biege (GtB). The aim is to spread this practice (of sharing) regionally.
We also put together a carbon footprint report for 2009, which outlined specific areas of high carbon emissions. A series of internal mini-campaigns were then initiated around these areas — waste, transport and energy — which made the work manageable and easier to focus. This is another successful method I hope to spread across Posts in the region.
As we put systems into place, we are really trying to get all staff more energised about being environmentally friendly. Communications is key to nurturing enthusiasm, so once every fortnight, I release a greening newsletter called BE: Green Express. The newsletter features stories on staff who have taken measures to reduce their carbon emissions, like our Ambassador, who swapped a plane journey to Shanghai with an overnight train (saving 0.2 tonnes of carbon).
You can also learn more about climate change and energy and the UK in China on our website in English or Chinese and on our Facebook page.
Now is the time to maintain momentum, not only to demonstrate the FCO’s commitment to taking a lead on environmental issues, but also to show, on a grassroots level, that altering individual habits can make a difference.
Out of the terrible earthquake that struck China on 12 May 2008 has come a wealth of inspiring examples of human determination in the face of disaster. The story of the Chinese city of Guangyuan is one of them.
In the thick of the earthquake zone, Guangyuan was among the most devastated cities, reduced to rubble in parts. Two years on, the demanding process of reconstruction continues. But Guangyuan’s goal is not simply to restore itself – it wants to become a model for low-carbon city development.
Last week I had the privilege of joining representatives from the city to attend the launch in Beijing of a pioneering study mapping out the ways in which Guangyuan can achieve its low-carbon goal. The study was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development's emergency relief facility for the Wenchuan Earthquake and supported by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Environment, and State Forestry Administration. It is the work of a team led by one of China’s leading experts in the field, Professor Pan Jiahua of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. It is one of more than 20 low-carbon projects jointly supported by the governments of China and the UK through a variety of collaborative mechanisms.
There are other cities in the world that have succeeded in rebuilding themselves quite magnificently in the wake of destruction. But there are no examples I know of of cities that have had the presence of mind and political will to want to make low emissions a key aspect of a new, rebuilt future. So for those of us working in climate diplomacy, Guangyuan’s case is special.
And yet the decision to consider low-carbon development in the unhappy circumstances in which Guangyuan has found itself makes good sense. If much of a city’s infrastructure has to be rebuilt, why not seize the chance to make a better, more sustainable city? If buildings have to be reconstructed, why not do this in a way that provides people with homes, factories, farms and workshops that are more efficient and use less energy? The crisis that created the need to rebuild also created an opportunity to avoid high-carbon lock-in.
The study looks at the overall development needs of the city and identifies the key elements of three low-carbon scenarios, each taking into account options for a wide range of city characteristics: transport, buildings, economic development, spatial layout, and so on. The experiences and piloting work flowing from this will create practical examples for other parts of China.
The city’s story could also provide lessons for the rest of the world. If Guangyuan, never rich, and now recovering from an earthquake, can take seriously the need for low-carbon development, then more fortunate cities around the world might want to take note. Some might even feel a twinge of shame at their apathy towards their own emissions.
The best way of honouring any city’s suffering is surely to make its future better than its past. The low-carbon study that was launched last week gives us reason to hope that Guangyuan will make for itself a future that is not just better than its past but an inspiration for other cities.
The study was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development's emergency relief facility for the Wenchuan Earthquake and supported by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Environment, and State Forestry Administration. It is the work of a team led by one of China’s leading experts in the field, Professor Pan Jiahua of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. It is one of more than 20 low-carbon projects jointly supported by the governments of China and the UK through a variety of collaborative mechanisms.
Guest blog from James Rawlins in the British Consulate-General Shanghai:
The growing concentrations of carbon in our atmosphere are largely the product of economic growth, so any successful attempt to reduce emissions and limit climate change must have economics at its heart, and reflect the economic realities of today’s world.
To explore some of the economic angles of climate change and sustainable development, the British Consulate-General Shanghai’s climate change team recently organised a roundtable discussion between an economist who worked on the famous Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, and two Chinese economists who advise Shanghai government on low carbon and energy issues. To summarise a few of the main points:
- High carbon growth is simply not a sensible option, because oil supplies are finite and prices will rise, and more fundamentally because unconstrained emissions will lead to extremely damaging climate impacts. If we act quickly the cost of preventing those impacts will be kept to 1-2% of global GDP. That’s less than many countries spend on defence.
- Cities have an extremely important role to play in moving to a low carbon economy. The world – and especially China – is urbanising at an unprecedented rate. The new cities must be energy and resource efficient, and well planned, not sprawling. Innovation has always happened best in cities, so China has a huge opportunity to develop and trial new technologies and ideas in its cities.
- Traditional economists worry that the move to low carbon might be a burden on growth. We see the same concerns in the West. And in both China and the West, powerful interest groups in energy intensive industries will resist low carbon regulation. You will always hear louder arguments against change. But there are huge opportunities for new economic growth in moving to low carbon.
A number of these ideas are discussed in more detail in a paper Lord Stern presented at the prestigious China Development Forum earlier this year, “The Road from Copenhagen: Options for China”. A complete translation of the paper is available on our 2 degree website.
In it he says that the transition to low carbon is likely to be the most dynamic period in economic history, and that seeing it as a burden is a profound mistake. He explores some of the ways in which China in particular can promote and benefit from low carbon growth.
By assessing the commitments that were announced at Copenhagen in December last year in simple arithmetic terms and comparing them to what is necessary to prevent dangerous climate change, he shows that stronger action is needed from all the major emitters, whether they are developed or developing. Scientists have shown us what the global emissions pathway must look like out to 2050 in order to have a 50% chance of keeping climate change to within 2 degrees – the threshold above which the impacts are widely agreed to be dangerous. He shows that a number of current commitments are simply not consistent with achieving a 2 degrees outcome.
For China he hopes it will be possible to achieve a carbon intensity reduction of 29% in each 5 year plan (through a 20% reduction in energy intensity and a simultaneous 11% reduction in emissions per unit of energy). This would be challenging but achievable. The British Consulate-General Shanghai's last Chinese climate change newsletter looked at how successful energy efficiency policies in the UK have continued driving year on year efficiency improvements, which suggests that there remain many opportunities in China to improve efficiency. And as noted last time, those efficiency improvements will save money and make Chinese companies more competitive, as well as helping us prevent dangerous climate change.
If you live in Shanghai at the moment, the Expo is never far from your mind. During my first 18 months living here, there hardly seemed to be a road that wasn’t being excavated, or a park that wasn’t being smartened up, all in anticipation of the big day on May 1. Expo has now been going for a little over two months, and so far it’s a tremendous success. Visitor numbers seem to reach new heights each week, and many of the pavilions are genuinely spectacular.
The theme of Expo is ‘Better City, Better Life’. It’s been interesting to reflect on that theme while watching the city – surely the most dynamic city in the world – grow and evolve before my eyes. What makes a city a good place to live? Are the changes taking place here in Shanghai ahead of Expo making people’s lives better? Undoubtedly many of them are. The metro system has been extended. Formerly industrial areas of the riverfront have been turned into open public spaces. The Expo site itself will become a mixed use development that will hopefully embody the principles of sustainability brought to mind by the Expo theme.
I hope that Shanghai, and city governments across the rest of China (and indeed the wider world), will not make the same mistakes that we have made in the West in planning and building our cities. Some of those mistakes are very hard to undo. Huge amounts of capital get tied up in buildings, making them too expensive to replace. If you build a bad building, you are stuck with it for 50 years. If you build a bad transport system, you’re probably stuck with it for a lot longer. The decisions we make today will affect our ability to live in a sustainable way in the future. At a recent conference I heard a speaker pose the question “are we going to build our cities for cars, or for people?” It’s an important question, and one worth reflecting on next time you are sat in traffic gridlock at rush hour.
The Expo is full of examples of sustainable and environmentally friendly technology. There are electric buses, a large solar power installation, and in the Urban Best Practice Area, you can see sustainable urban developments from around the world. Visitors to Expo can learn a lot about our impact on the environment, and how to reduce it, and that’s great. Just this morning on my walk to work I walked through an Expo Youth Week exhibition in Jing An park. There were billboards about wind power, and other renewable and low carbon technologies. Again, it’s all good for raising awareness. But amongst all the developments currently under construction in Shanghai, few are likely to be anywhere near best practise for energy efficiency and sustainability. So in addition to the disconnect between what is on show at events like Expo, and what is happening just a few kilometres outside the Expo park, there is also a huge opportunity being wasted.
I’m not saying this is just happening in China. It’s happening all over the world including in the UK, EU and US. Where is not important. The point is that if all we do is to showcase these ideas on a tiny scale, while at the same time we lock in high carbon, resource hungry buildings and infrastructure for decades, we’re going to put ourselves firmly on a path to serious resource shortages and dangerous climate change.
After 4 fantastic years in China, most of which has been spent working with the Embassy as part of the UK's climate change team I am in the midst of packing my bags ahead of my return to London. As a consequence, I've been reflecting on my time here. Much of what I'll write here is obvious, but I think it is worth restating:
- China is vast and within China there is huge variation. There is variation in terms of accessibility, development, institutional capacity, wealth and most importantly from our perspective the level of priority given to climate change as an issue. That means that we the UK need to think carefully about how we engage.
- The means is often as important as the end and 'learning by doing' is critical to ensuring a shared understanding. China's willingness to undertake small scale pilots allows policies and ideas to be adapted to the China context. Developed nations can learn from this and we should be careful not to expect any country to simply take our models and policies and apply them without first adapting them.
- By building relationships and trust you can make progress even on issues where there appears a significant gap in perspectives. In 2006 few people in Government talked about carbon emissions and the only focus for engagement was around energy efficiency. Today China has a carbon intensity target and the UK has over 30 projects that support that effort, working with a host of implementers and government agencies. These projects are developed in collaboration with the National Development and Reform Council (NDRC) and look at issues that are of mutual interest. Some have achieved very significant impacts, and all have helped to build capacity and shared understanding leading to change.
- Collaboration works better than instruction. Perhaps in the past there were occasions where we have been guilty of “preaching” to China. Today I believe our attitude has changed and what we have now is closer to true "cooperation".
As with any large and multifaceted nation, trying to understand how things work in China can at times be a challenge and though it gets easier for those of us who have the pleasure to live here, for our colleagues who live in London and work in Whitehall it can remain difficult to understand. I'm going to miss so many things about living in Beijing but I will take away a wealth of happy memories and knowledge which I sincerely hope to be able to continue to use in order to strengthen the relationship between our countries. I understand that Premier Wen once described the UK as "China's partner of choice for working on climate change". I certainly believe that only by working together can we secure a better, safer and more prosperous future.
The photograph was taken earlier this week at an annual meeting of all UK government staff and diplomats from around China whose job it is to build partnerships and run joint projects with China related to climate change, energy and low-carbon development. There was a lot to talk about. Our teams at the British Embassy in Beijing and Consulates General in Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong are currently engaged in more than 20 climate change and energy projects with Chinese partners, most of them funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Strategic Programme Fund. Our colleagues from the Department for International Development in China, with co-funding from Switzerland, are working with China on a major programme of joint research into adaptation to climate change. And the British Council in China has a major initiative with the Chinese government aimed at promoting public understanding of climate change. Joining us from London to discuss the full range of this significant collaborative effort and how to develop it, was Vivien Life (front, centre in the photo), the new head of the Climate Change and Energy Group in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It is no secret of course that the UK and China have recently had significant disagreements, including over aspects of the Copenhagen negotiations. It is right that the UK should reflect on these developments. Equally, it is clear that on climate change as on many other issues the UK and China have built a good underlying relationship based on long-term cooperation on practical and technical matters. The strength of that underlying relationship was one of the themes of our Beijing meeting.
Another theme was the underlying strength of climate science. Groups opposed to action on climate change have been trying for years to undermine the scientific evidence base linking emissions to climate change. It was inevitable that we would see more of this in the run-up to Copenhagen. It is right that some of the concerns that have been flagged recently - about for example the handling of data by climate scientists at the University of East Anglia and the quality-control processes of the UN's IPCC - are now being examined by the appropriate authorities. There will no doubt be important lessons to learn from these cases.
But let's remember that the body of evidence linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change is colossal. We should continue to expect - and indeed demand - the best from climate science, while being grown up enough to accept that a few imperfections in a few small parts of what is now a vast edifice of knowledge do not discredit the whole.
One of the privileges of the job is that you get a ringside view of the significant - indeed sometimes inspiring - steps China is already taking to try to increase renewable energy supplies and reduce the growth in its greenhouse gas emissions. I was reminded of this today by my colleague Bryn James, who runs our climate change team at the British Consulate in Chongqing and sent me this account:
"On Monday I paid a fascinating visit to the river-source heat pump station at the confluence of the Yangtse and the Jialing rivers which supplies heating and cooling to the iconic Chongqing Grand Theatre . The water from the Jialing, at 9 or 10 degrees in the winter and 24 or 25 degrees in the summer, is of a steadier temperature throughout the year than that of the atmosphere outside. Engineers have taken this temperature difference and can amplify it to provide heating or cooling for the Grand Theatre and future local buildings. The river-source heat pumps are supplemented by ground-source heat pumps using the same principle.
Currently the system is operating under capacity as it only services the Grand Theatre itself. But when the surrounding new business district is built - and the plans are typically extensive and impressive - then this heat pump station will be one of two in total which will supply the entire area. That's four million square metres of floorspace with near-zero carbon heating and cooling. This is a big carbon saving. In fact, when completed this installation is projected to be the largest of its kind in the world.
There's no doubt that this is an expensive installation. But lest we forget: Chongqing is on track to become of the great mega-cities of the 21st century. Its leaders know that with global energy prices set to rise and China needing to reduce the amount of carbon it emits per unit of GDP, it makes sense to seize the moment and make bold low-carbon investments. Self-sustaining, clean energy such as this is surely going to become better and better value."
I agree with Bryn. As China continues to urbanise, buildings will account for a expanding portion of China's energy needs and an ever greater share of the country's total emissions. So we can expect to see demand rise in China for projects capable of delivering energy to buildings more efficiently and sustainably.
We should do all we reasonably can to enable China to access the know-how and technologies needed to meet this demand. The benefits after all are mutual: the world gets a more stable climate; China in the long run avoids heftier energy bills. That's a "two-for-the-price-of-one" show we should all be wanting to see.
Hearing what it had to say - and looking at the many photographs its member have taken over the past decade or more – I was struck by two things. First, by the range and depth of some of the physical changes now under way in China as a result of climate change, particularly in and around the sources of the great Yangtze and Yellow rivers; and second, by how global warming is already affecting many rural Chinese communities, in some cases to the extent that people are having to relocate as significant river systems dry up or become less reliable and as groundwater levels fall.
Changes of this sort to landscapes and communities are not in every case caused solely by global warming. In some parts of China climate impacts are amplifying environmental stresses already introduced by human development: climate change is a “threat multiplier”. It has the potential to make many existing problems (for example, the over extraction of river water for irrigation) worse than they might otherwise be.
These and other aspects of climate change will form part of the focus of a recently launched programme of joint China/UK/Swiss research called Adapting to Climate Change in China. Building on some eight years of co-operation between the UK and China in this area, the programme will develop better climate models for China (particularly in relation to issues like extreme weather events, and the Asian typhoon system) and a better understanding of climate impacts and how to adapt to them. It is a fine example of how countries can collaborate in the field of climate change and I shall return to it in future blogs.
For now though we shouldn’t forget that on present emissions trends, the impacts of global warming are likely to outstrip even our best efforts to adapt. The average global temperature has so far risen by around 0.8 degrees celsius above its level in pre-industrial times. Science tells us it is likely to rise to around 4 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at our present rate. If the warming we are experiencing today has the power to melt ancient glaciers, dry out river systems and challenge the very existence of rural communities then it is safe to assume that life in a “4 degrees” world would be no fun at all.
Indeed a powerful glimpse of the likely horrors of such a world is provided by a study released this week by scientists from the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre. The study has produced a map showing how an average 4 degrees rise in global temperature would affect different parts of the world. In such a world, we could expect severe droughts, crop failures and powerful cyclones to become the norm (check out the predicted effects on China by viewing the interactive map).
Against this picture, the alternative path - achieving a fair and effective international deal in Copenhagen to reduce global emissions – looks by far the better option.
New evidence on the present and likely future impacts of global warming is being published all the time. But formal assessments by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change appear only once every six years or so. The last one was in 2007 and only covered science published in peer review journals up to May 2006.
A lot has happened since then, both to the planet’s climate systems and the evidence base. Where to go for an informed view of the latest science?
I can recommend a “synthesis” report based on a conference held earlier this year in Copenhagen by the International Alliance of Research Universities. The report was published in English in June but is now available in other languages too, including Chinese . Some of the world’s best climate experts were involved in writing it. Its stated goal is to reflect “solidly and accurately” the research produced since the last IPCC report. Importantly, it was subject to an extensive review process.
The report describes how the physical impacts of climate change are kicking in faster than previously thought. Ocean warming is now 50% greater than reported in the 2007 IPCC report. Estimates of future global sea level rise are double the IPCC projections. Ice caps and ice sheets are losing mass faster, and shrinking more in the summer. There is now more – and better – evidence on the threat posed by climate change to natural processes that enable land and oceans to act as crucial “sinks” for carbon.
The report analyses what all this means for the defining of “dangerous” in the context of climate change. Many governments (including the UK’s) have a settled view that we need an international climate agreement strong enough to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Anything less we argue would be too risky.
But not all governments are explicitly supporting the 2-degree target or yet pledging actions in line with achieving it. So what does the latest evidence say about the risks of 2 versus, say, 3 or 4 degrees of warming?
In 2001 the IPCC assessed five categories of concern linked to climate change (eg the risk of extreme weather events or the risk of abrupt changes in large natural systems). Back then, the science indicated that limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees would be enough to avoid serious risks across all five categories. Sadly that is no longer the case. An updated version of the analysis in the new “synthesis” report assigns significantly higher levels of risk to 2 degrees of warming. For example, the risk of abrupt and irreversible changes in large natural systems increases from “very low” in the old assessment of 2 degrees to “moderate” in the new one. In other words, 2 degrees worth of risk in the new analysis resembles at least 3 degrees worth of risk in the old one.
The report concludes: “Although a 2 degree rise in temperature above pre-industrial remains the most commonly quoted guardrail for avoiding dangerous climate change, it nevertheless carries significant risks of deleterious impacts for society and the environment”.
The issue of where we should agree to draw the line on climate change is of course fundamental to the international negotiations that will come to a head in Copenhagen in December. Some policy makers and governments will no doubt continue to suggest that aiming for 2 degrees is too ambitious and not justified by the science. The message I take from the latest research is just the opposite. Aiming for 2 degrees may not be ambitious enough.