China and a Sustainable Future
Towards a Low Carbon Economy and Society
United Nations Development Program | April 15, 2010
China Human Development Report 2009/10
If climate change impacts are not adequately addressed in China, there is a danger that three decades of achievements may be reversed. China's most strategic choice is therefore to embark on a low carbon development path that will preserve and increase its human development achievements in the years to come. The political leadership recognizes this necessity and is determined to move forward, as expressed in resolutions, speeches and China's pledge to the Copenhagen Accord. The challenge is to do this in a systematic way that builds on past achievements and simultaneously achieves human development objectives.
China's National Human Development Report for 2009/10 examines some of the key issues related to China's transition to a low carbon economy. The report considers the main obstacles in the short and medium term, the needs of development and transfer of technologies, and the costs, including the opportunity costs which lead to needs for financial resources. It questions whether or not China can pursue a new economic, technological and social system of production and consumption that conserves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining momentum on economic and social development. One essential element in a successful strategy for transitioning to a low carbon economy is to investigate and recognize both the potential economic, social and political benefits and costs and assess them in an integrative manner.
This report breaks new ground in attempting to link economic growth, carbon emissions and human development in China. It highlights a holistic approach that goes beyond carbon productivity and mitigation, and demonstrates why a low carbon economy and society are feasible. More sustainable climate and energy policies can bring development benefits and opportunities by:
- Enhancing energy efficiency to foster economic development, while reducing climate risks;
- Lowering dependency on imported oil to increase stability and energy security;
- Developing climate-friendly sectors to provide long-lasting green job opportunities;
- Addressing adaptation needs to improve human and social resilience and capture environmental and social benefits;
- Boosting social equity in the energy sector to enhance carbon and energy productivity, and alleviate the burdens of socially vulnerable groups, particularly the poor;
- Encouraging innovation for diverse economic and social benefits;
- Investing in green energy technologies and projects to spur economic growth as climatefriendly technologies become more widely deployed;
- Developing more renewable energy resources to help to meet the needs of poor people and vulnerable groups who usually have no, or limited, access to energy resources; and
- Improving resource and energy efficiency, carrying out economic restructuring and enhancing the capacity of carbon sinks to protect and sustain the environment.
Carbon productivity, measured as GDP per unit of carbon emissions, is an important indicator of the climate-related performance of an economy and society. During the past decade or so, China has introduced rigorous energy conservation and emission reduction policies that have significantly improved its carbon productivity. At present, it is exploring major reforms to adjust its economic structure, enhance its capacities for technological innovation, and improve its implementation of laws and regulations.
The Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006–2010) sets specific goals for improving the efficiency of energy and resource utilization. It establishes the following targets: cutting energy consumption per unit of GDP by around 20 percent; reducing water consumed per unit of industry value added by 30 percent; raising the effective utilization coefficient of field irrigation water to 0.5; and increasing the recycling rate for industrial solid wastes to 60 percent.
The National Climate Change Programme [PDF] outlines a strategy and actions to address climate change, and China has pledged autonomous and voluntary domestic actions related to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It has agreed to endeavour to lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level; increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020; and expand forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from 2005 levels.
The Government's efforts to reduce carbon intensity reflect a recognition that by investing in a green economy and green growth underpinned by emerging green technologies, China has an opportunity to leapfrog over decades of traditional development based on high-polluting fuels. The transition, however, cannot take place overnight. Given its current technological capacity and its high dependence on coal for the foreseeable future, economic growth will mean increased carbon emissions. And with China still facing a combination of major socioeconomic development pressures, it will need to embark on multiple, simultaneous strategies for its development objectives.
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