By Haibing Ma

Guangdong is releasing a series of policies to ensure a green future. ©

According to media reports, Guangdong province has taken the lead in becoming the pioneer of low-carbon practices in China. Guangdong is one of 13 pilot regions—including five provinces and eight municipalities—that the Chinese government has selected to explore low-carbon development. So far, it is the only pilot region that has issued a comprehensive plan for this development and had it approved by the central government.

In January 2012, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) reviewed and then “approved with positive comments” Guandong’s “Implementation Plan for Low-Carbon Pilot Programs.” Although this plan has not been made public, it reportedly lays out eight “key actions”:

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12th Five-Year Plan, cap and trade, carbon emission, carbon intensity, China, emission trading, energy intensity, green development, Guangdong province, low-carbon, MRV, NDRC, pilot program, statistics

On December 11, the United Nations climate conference in Cancún, Mexico—which began with modest expectations—ended with modest results. This was no surprise, given the gaps that have existed not only between industrialized and developing countries, but also within these two groups. Cancún’s outcomes may not seem that impressive, or anywhere close to the FAB (fair, ambitious, and binding) standard. But a modest deal is definitely better than no deal at all, especially at a time when the world is starting to lose faith in the UN negotiating process.

China moves the ball

Looking back at the situation before Cancún, or even during the first few days of the conference, it is fair to say that without China’s initiative and positive “chain-reaction” impact on other nations, Cancún could have ended in the same disappointments as the Copenhagen climate talks did a year ago. Before Cancún, the world feared another U.S.-China deadlock, as was witnessed in Copenhagen and also at the October 2010 major climate meeting in Tianjin.

Luckily, in Cancún, the United States and China shook hands instead of bumping heads. The compromises that these and other countries made, as well as the host country’s excellent mediation skills, ultimately saved this conference.

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binding, Cancun, China, Climate Change, COP-16, energy efficiency, green economy, MRV, renewa, renewable energy

By Haibing Ma and Alexander Ochs

Recently, a China Daily news report caught Uncle Sam’s attention, presumably at an inconvenient time: just when the U.S. Senate finally admitted to abandoning its plan of issuing a federal climate bill by the end of this year, top Chinese officials were discussing how to launch carbon trading programs under their country’s next Five-Year Plan (2011–15). Serving as China’s overarching social and economic guidance, Five-Year Plans consistently lay out the most crucial development strategies for this giant emerging economy. Once included in the plan, carbon trading will be viewed as part of China’s national goals and will be domestically binding. This occurred most recently with the country’s 2010 energy intensity target, which called for a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels and was disaggregated into provincial and local targets, with local officials held accountable for achieving them. In short, China seems to be accelerating full-throttle toward a low-carbon economy.

Chinese policymakers have been eyeing a domestic emission-trading scheme for a while. Last August, Xie Zhenhua, Deputy Director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), announced that China will launch a pilot carbon trading program in selected regions and/or sectors—basically the same message conveyed in the recent China Daily story. On one hand, this reiteration demonstrates that the Chinese government is seriously considering such a market-based mitigation mechanism; on the other hand, the fact that the program’s status is still in discussion a year later shows that putting cap-and-trade into action might be not be that easy in China either.

Here are some of the problems: A non-voluntary emission-trading system cannot work without a mandatory cap on emissions, either for the economy as a whole or for individual sectors. However, China is currently unlikely to set an absolute emission target because this would contradict its long-standing position at international climate negotiations that industrialized countries have a historic responsibility to take the lead in this area. Most Chinese climate officials and experts agree that China could probably peak its emissions between 2030 and 2035, but huge uncertainties remain.

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cap and trade, carbon trading, China, Climate Change, emissions reductions, energy intensity, MRV, NDRC, Tianjin Climate Exchange, U.S., UNFCCC

A lack of trust wafted through the Copenhagen air when negotiators gathered at December’s United Nations climate summit. While many developing countries offered emission reduction commitments, several delegates from industrialized nations remained unconvinced that such reductions could be proven.

To guarantee that the commitments do take place, the Copenhagen Accord [PDF] concluded that developing countries will be held to domestic measurement, reporting, and verification standards (MRV) and that submissions to the United Nations will be subject to “international consultation and analysis under clearly defined guidelines.” But a new analysis finds that the guidelines may still not be enough to ensure that reported emission levels are truly accurate.

Recent technology advancements have allowed each country to estimate fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions more accurately, but independent data, especially for other greenhouse gases, is still unavailable for most countries—whether wealthy or poor, according to a report from the U.S. National Research Council.

In many industrialized countries, self-reported national inventories are, on average, estimated to have uncertainties of less than 5 percent for national CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use. Uncertainties for net CO2 emissions from land use change (such as deforestation) and for emissions of methane, nitrous oxide (N2O), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) often range from 25 to 100 percent.

Rapidly improving satellite technology offers tremendous potential for accurate emission measurements, especially of natural CO2 sources and sinks such as forests. While the crash of NASA’s $278 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite in February 2009 was a step back, U.S. President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget request includes $170 million for a replacement craft. Meanwhile, private companies such as Google are developing software that advances satellite measurements of carbon emissions.

The NRC report offers several recommendations for improving the collection, analysis, and reporting of emissions that could quickly improve verification procedures. The cost, based on an estimate of improving emission verification in 10 of the largest emitting developing countries, would be a “relatively modest” $11 million over five years.

“For any international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, it would be essential for each country to monitor its own emissions and to provide a transparent capability for any nation to check the values reported by another,” said Princeton University ecologist Stephen Pacala, who chaired the NRC committee that produced the report, in a statement.  “This would give nations confidence that their neighbors are living up to their commitments.”

Copenhagen Accord, emissions reductions, measurement, MRV, reporting, verification