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For several years, one major issue in the global climate change debate has been how to narrow the target gap between 2°C and the figure pledged by each country. Next March, the IPCC will hold its 5th Assessment Report (AR5) Working Group 2 meeting in Yokohama. This month, we hear from Jiang Kejun, Senior Researcher at the Energy Research Institute, China on the situation surrounding the 2°C target in Asia.

2°C Target in Asia

--- How important is it for Asia to tackle the challenge of a 2°C target?

Kejun:
For the global climate change target which states that "to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C above preindustrial levels", global emissions basically have to peak as soon as possible, at the latest before 2020. Total CO2 emissions from Asia made up more than one third of the global total by 2010. And more importantly, of the 33% global CO2 emissions between 2000 and 2010, roughly 83% could be attributed to Asia. Therefore if we are still going to hold on to the 2°C target, Asia needs to move faster, otherwise the target is going to be impossible to achieve. Based on the modelling analysis, CO2 emissions from Asia have to peak before 2025, and start to decrease after that.

Asia is quite diverse: there are developed countries such as Japan and Korea, there are big economies in transit such as China, there are traditional dragon-growth countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, and then there are also many poor countries. If Asia together could make a significant change, this will have a strong impact on the world, not only for CO2 emissions, but also for actions. We could say that Asia could, or should, be the pioneer to search for a path towards low-carbon development.

Now we are pushing China to ensure its CO2 emissions peak before 2025, which would make it possible for global CO2 emissions to peak by 2020. China could be a good case to show how to limit CO2 emissions while continuing to develop further. Based on our study, China could reach peak emissions before 2025, but several pre­conditions are needed, including optimising economic development, improving energy efficiency further, as well as enhancing renewable energy and nuclear development, and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

There has been a rapid increase in output of energy intensive products over the last several years and this has been a major driving force for fast energy-demand growth. Energy intensive industries consume more than 50% of energy in China, and account for more than 70% of the newly-increased power output. Development of energy intensive industry should be limited. Scenario analysis shows that the output of many energy intensive products will reach a peak before 2020, with a much slower growth rate compared with that of the 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010)(*1), and therefore will significantly change the pathway for energy demand and CO2 emissions.

Energy efficiency should be further promoted. During the 11th Five Year plan, energy efficiency improved significantly. By reviewing what happened with energy efficiency in the 11th Five Year Plan, and comparing energy conservation efforts in the last several decades, as well as looking at efforts made in other countries, China now is taking unprecedented action on energy conservation. Much more specific policies and actions on energy efficiency could be implemented, such as a quick shift to higher energy efficiency standards, market based mechanisms, and stricter building energy codes. The aim is to make China’s energy efficiency in major sectors to be one of the best by 2030 to 2050.

China is a now a leading country in new energy and renewable energy. By 2011, the amount of installed wind power capacity was 62.7GW, with an increase of 18GW in 2011 which is two thirds of the global newly installed capacity in 2011, and annual growth rate from 2008 to 2011 of more than 60%. Based on planning in China, by 2020 renewable energy will make up 15% of total primary energy, which includes renewable energy not included in national statistics of energy. In the global 2°C scenario, power generation from renewable energy could reach 48% of total power generation, leaving only 17% for coal-fired power generation. The amount of installed capacity for wind, solar and hydro will be 930GW, 1040GW, 520GW respectively by 2050.

For CO2 emissions, carbon capture and storage (CCS) could further contribute to CO2 emissions reduction. China has to use CCS due to the fact that large amounts of coal will be used over the next several decades.

Technology progress is a key assumption for a low­carbon future in China. Progress in end-use technologies is also moving faster than the assumed model. Electric appliances such as LED TVs, higher efficiency air conditioners and high efficiency cars, already had a higher penetration rate by 2011 than the assumed model. If policy is right, lower energy demand in the 2°C scenario will be quite feasible by 2020 and beyond.

In the meantime, a rapid GDP growth rate provides strong support for low-carbon development in China. In the 11th Five Year Plan period, the annual GDP growth rate was 11.2%. But this is a 16.7% annual growth rate if calculated based on current values. It is expected that by 2015, GDP in China could reach CNY75 trillion (based on current value). The investment needed in all studies is much smaller compared with GDP; in fact normally it is less than 2 to 4%.

However, to develop a new pathway is not easy for Asia, because of the need for financing support and technology availability. The Asian economy is growing rapidly, and it is hoped that Asia can do something in the new era - this kind of transition could also benefit the social-economic development of the region.

Challenges towards Low Carbon Cities

--- Could you please elaborate on one or two concrete and unique challenges of the low-carbon cities project in China?

Kejun:
From 2010 a pilot programme for low-carbon city and provinces has been making a lot of progress. There were 13 cities and provinces included in the first phase, and another 29 locations were covered in the second phase in 2012. The development of low-carbon cities and provinces already has an influential effect in China in the promotion of low-carbon development. However by reviewing what has happened up to now, several big challenges remain for this project.

First, there is still a lack of understanding about low-carbon in China. Many cities have announced they are carrying out low-carbon actions, but their CO2 emissions trend or CO2 emissions per capita have not changed or improved. Most low-carbon cities and provinces have seen rapid increases in their CO2 emissions and CO2 emissions per capita. In particular many of their CO2 emissions per capita exceed those of high-emission developed countries. This means economic development is still a key concern for these cities and provinces. With this background, it is proving very difficult for these cities and provinces to make changes for low-carbon development. There is a need to do more and start thinking about a development pattern for real low-carbon development. The design for low-carbon development is a whole-system issue, which needs to move into all activities of the social system. But right now it is hard to convince local government and public that this is worth doing. In city development, there is no clear picture of the direction in which a city should go, and cities in China are currently just large GDP cities focusing on much more development of industry there. This is difficult to change in the short-term and there needs to be much more effort and reorganisation in the future.

Second, there is still a lack of local capacity for low-carbon, in both research capacity and for regimes to promote low-carbon. Most of the low-carbon planning or strategy studies for these pilot projects were done by researchers from Beijing, and this is not good when trying to support local policymaking processes. There needs to be long-term action and consultancy for the policymaking process, rather than just a research project. In addition, the regime for local governments to promote low-carbon development is not yet ready; low-carbon development is still a side issue, and is not yet in the main flow of policy making processes. This may take time. Some cities may take the lead to present a new picture for city development in China.

This is not only crucial for China, but also for other developing countries.

--- Thank you very much.

-* Jiang Kejun is a provisional management member of Low Carbon Asia Research Network (LoCARNet), and will host a session on "Comparison of reduction potential in each country towards achieving 2°C" at the 2nd LoCARNet Annual Meeting which will be held on 24 and 25 July 2013, along with the 5th International Forum for Sustainable Asia and the Pacific (ISAP) at Pacifico Yokohama.

*1: China's Eleventh Five-Year Plan, which set the directions for national development for the 2006 to 2010 period.

About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES released "Top News on the Environment in Asia" on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, "Top News" collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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