What China expects from the Copenhagen climate talks

BERN, Switzerland — The upcoming Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change will be the most important meeting on global warming since Kyoto. China and the United States, which are the two largest energy producers and consumers in the world, will both play key roles in reaching an ultimate solution. With an eye toward Copenhagen, GlobalPost sat down for an hour with China’s ambassador to Switzerland, Dong Jinyi, to discuss China’s expectations for the conference. Here are excerpts from that interview:

GlobalPost: What does China expect to come from the Copenhagen Conference on Climate change?

Dong Jinyi: Climate change is an important problem for China as it is for other countries. It requires the combined efforts of everyone. The Copenhagen conference is very important for the international community, and it is in everyone’s interest that it reaches a conclusion that is positive, balanced and that is acceptable to everyone. China feels that the conference should aim at the effective and sustainable global application of the United Nations’ framework on climate change and the Kyoto protocol. The framework is well-defined and we should advance according to the steps outlined in it. If you want to reach a height, you need a ladder. One step after the other leads to the top.

We do not need to overturn everything and start over from the beginning. We need to build on the base in order to reach concrete results.

GlobalPost: What are the first steps?

Dong Jinyi: The first step was Kyoto and the climate change convention. Now for the second step, the developed industrialized countries need to establish precise indications concerning emissions until 2020. The developing countries also need to reduce emissions based on the concrete reality in each of these countries. Many of these countries are not at the same level of development. Some of them are quite developed, and others have nothing, although they are all affected by climate change. A third consideration is that the countries that have the finances and the technology to deal with the problem need to make that technology and funding available to the developing countries that do not have it. That is extremely important, and we need to have concrete action in this direction. There needs to be the will to accomplish something. It is important that we do not just keep discussing this. We need to act. That is why we feel that Copenhagen must produce results.

GlobalPost: Does China plan to curb its emissions?

Dong Jinyi: We have launched an action plan and we are establishing a fundamental national policy on climate change, which includes mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity and the discharge of major pollutants, as well as increasing renewable energy. Last year China’s energy use per unit of GDP was 10.1 percent lower than it was in 2005. We are striving to reach the goal of a 20 percent reduction on schedule.

We are also taking concrete measures to limit emissions. For example, we have a trial program to provide 60,000 public transportation vehicles using clean or hybrid energy in 10 major cities. The experiment began in 2008 and will last through 2010. We expect that to reduce gasoline use by 30 percent in these cities.

A second example, we are installing lighting based on semi-conductors in 10 major cities. Over the next three years we will install 6 million energy efficient bulbs that we expect to save a billion kilowatt-hours.

Another project, which will provide solar energy power plants by 2015, will provide an additional 2,500,000 kilowatts of electric power. That project will go until 2020, and then we will build a larger series of solar power plants, which will each produce 50,000 kilowatts of power.

The government is also strongly supporting enterprises manufacturing electric bicycles and vehicles, which are very popular. China hopes to produce at least 15 percent and possibly more of its energy from non-fossil fuels by 2020, and to increase its forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters from the levels in 2005. China will increase its nuclear power output by 40 million kilowatts.


Is this enough to solve the problem?

Dong Jinyi: No, it is not enough, but before you proceed with a plan, you need to have enough experience to know that it works. Every time you introduce something new, you need to test it first. If these projects are successful, we will expand them.

GlobalPost: Is China is working with the United States on some of these projects?

Dong Jinyi: Yes. We have been cooperating for several years, we signed the Framework for Ten Year Cooperation on Energy and Environment (“TYF”) on June 18, 2008, and during the visit of President Obama, we signed a memorandum of understanding enhancing cooperation on climate change, energy and the environment. We will be doing research on the clean use of coal, aiming at zero emissions. China gets roughly 70 percent of its energy from coal. If we can succeed in reducing the emissions it will be extremely worthwhile. Sequestering the emissions from coal is a complicated process, but scientists believe that we can achieve this. By simply reducing the intensity of energy use, China can save 620 million tons of coal over the next five years. That is the equivalent of cutting 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or a reduction of 300 million tons of CO2 annually. Compared to other countries, China is a leader in reducing emissions.

GlobalPost: Many of the rural villages in China depend on coal for heating. Isn’t this a source of pollution?

Dong Jinyi: We have a program to develop biogas for the rural areas, which has been under development for several years. It is working in many areas, and it is working well. People in the countryside appreciate it because the cost is low.

GlobalPost: But China is resisting fixed limits on its overall emissions?

Dong Jinyi: It is very difficult to calculate over a long period of time. We can say that we will do this in 50 years, but who knows who will still be here in 50 years? We don’t want to make empty promises. We want concrete action. Industrialized countries can make accurate predictions, because they are already at a developed level and they have an economic situation that is different. The poor countries, and the developing countries, need to have real industries in order to grow, and it is difficult to calculate.

GlobalPost: And the Obama visit?

Dong Jinyi: It was very successful. All of the discussions were cordial, frank and fruitful. It was important for the leaders to get to know and better understand each other.

GlobalPost: During the press conference it was mentioned that there were some important differences.

Dong Jinyi: Certainly, ideologically we are different. We have different cultural systems and approaches to government. That did not prevent a frank dialogue.

GlobalPost: There were reports that the students who met President Obama were carefully selected.

Dong Jinyi: We have 7 million students who graduate every year. Of course, we had to make a selection, but it was not based on ideology. We have 100,000 students studying in the U.S. and 10,000 American students studying in China. Mr. Obama said during his visit that he plans to expand the number of Americans studying in China over the next four years. It was a very successful visit.

GlobalPost: Do you see a difference between the administration of President Obama and that of former President Bush?

Dong Jinyi: They have different styles, and their way of seeing things is different. I think that the approach of the Obama administration is better. President Obama is more open to discussion and making contact, and more democratic.

GlobalPost: President Obama mentioned that China and the U.S. are competitors, and we live in a world of diminishing resources. How do you see the future?

Dong Jinyi: It is true that resources are limited, but that means that we need to work together to find new sources of energy and new resources. When China began cooperation with certain countries that are rich in resources, it made sure that it was to benefit both partners. It was not only for the benefit of China. When China works with these countries, it is to help them develop their national economies and it is based on mutual agreement. China is not sending its army to occupy these countries. We are aiding world development and world stability.


Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, suggested that instead of a G-20, we could try a G-2. With China and the U.S. making the critical decisions.

Dong Jinyi: It is a complicated world made up of many different countries. You are not going to manage it with one or two countries. It is not the U.S. and the richest and most powerful that are going to resolve the problems. You need a much larger cooperation to resolve these problems.

GlobalPost: To return to Copenhagen, do you think that global warming may mean that we need to change the consumer-oriented economy that the world has adopted?

Dong Jinyi: The problem is not the economic system. It is more a problem of lifestyle and consumerism. It is how nature is being used. That needs to be changed, or we need to find another way of managing nature. We need to protect the environment. Nature is always changing. The question is in which direction: for better or worse? That is what we need to think about. We need to economize energy, we need research, and we still need to insure quality of life. We are not going to return to the middle ages and eat raw meat without electricity. We want to advance, but to do it reasonably.

GlobalPost: And restarting the economy?

Dong Jinyi: The economy will take off again, but there will be a restructuring of the world economy. In China we will restructure as well. We are closing the small electric generating plants and mines, in order to use more efficient means that are less damaging to the environment.

GlobalPost: We are in the age of information, and yet China still engages in censorship. Won’t this hold back China’s development?

Dong Jinyi: This is another difference in point of view. In reality, it is not censorship that you find in China. In any country you have rules and laws, which state that there are limits to what you can say and do. Anything that is within framework of the law is allowed. Anything that is outside the law is not. If you read Chinese newspapers and look at China’s websites, you will find anything. Sometimes it is too much. There is criticism of the government everywhere. We have more and more freedom. When you talk about censorship, every country has its own laws and its own rules. To say that censorship doesn’t exist in the U.S. is not true. Sometimes we exaggerate the problem.