Monday, October 11, 2010

Loving the Pandas and Slaying the Dragons

Moravian College began its InFocus theme on China with a lecture by Rob Gifford. He had recently published a book on China drawing on his years of living there and a six-week journey across the country. He began his lecture by saying there were both “panda-lovers and dragon-slayers” – in other words, that is there are many who praise China and tout its achievements and others who are critical of China, particularly in the areas of human rights and the environment.  Although I have only spent one week here in the Middle Kingdom, it’s pretty easy to see Gifford’s point.  There is, absolutely, much to criticize. And in the realm of climate change, coal would be at the top of the list, contributing 900 million tons of CO2/year and contributing to horrendous smog and air quality. But I am also struck by the friendliness of the people, and their real commitment to reducing their carbon intensity, despite short-term hardships. NGOs here in China note that they are making real headway on their goals. Considering the transformation of China from my first visit in 1983 to present, it may be possible for China to be transformed again into a green economy – and it would be in all of our interests for them to succeed.

Living Sustainably

If you’re reading this blog, I’m hoping that you’ll also log onto the new blog by Diane Husic at Sustainability is not one of the buzz words here in Tianjin – the UN mainly likes acronyms, although in this conference, the words “balanced” and “fair” have come up a lot.  No relation to Fox news. “Balanced” has to do with the different parts of the negotiation texts. “Fair,” as the Secretariat thinks of it, has to do with the fairness between the north and south hemispheres (the south is more vulnerable to climate change impacts with fewer resources), between the countries in the south hemisphere (not all G77 countries have equal resources or same climate problems), and between the current generation and those that will follow (we need to think more about what we leave to our grandchildren). The idea of living sustainably, in my view, relates to these issues of fairness: we should limit our use of the world’s resources in order that the developing countries may improve their standards of living and we should collectively leave the world’s biosystems as intact as possible for future generations.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Two Bad Boys

In an earlier post, I mentioned that one NGO representative called China and the United States the “two bad boys” who were “hiding behind each other.”  The week in Tianjin ended with little progress, and if you read the China Daily and the New York Times, it certainly seems to be all about China and the United States.  According to the U. S. account “China is ignoring pledges made under a global-warming accord reached
last year, … and Chinese officials have acted as though the agreement “never happened.” The article also mentions that China does not want to have “independent monitoring to verify their commitments.”
Meanwhile, China continues to commit to reduce its carbon intensity, and blames the delay of an international agreement on the United States. The China Daily article begins, “Progress in climate-treaty negotiations has been blocked because the United States has pushed to abandon the Kyoto Protocol while placing blame on developing countries.”  Their negotiator, Su Wei, pointed out that “some developed countries have kept silent on their mitigation plans after 2012.”  
    Unfortunately, China and the United States together account for half of the world’s emmisions. (To be fair, China’s per capita emissions level is a fraction of the United States emissions level.)  Without these two parties coming to some kind of agreement, there is little hope for a better outcome in Cancun.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hydro Energy and the Three Gorges

Wanchou, departure city for hydrofoil
Three Gorges
Cliffs along Three Gorges
On the plane to China, there were few Americans, but the few that I saw were going to see the main sites (Great Wall, Forbidden City) and to take a cruise of the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges. Normally, the cruise ships take 3 days, allowing time to visit the towns on the way. Taking advantage of an unscheduled day in my schedule, I opted for the 11-hour journey by bus and hydrofoil from Chongzing to Yichang, returning to Beijing in time for my flight home. The hydrofoil is a popular form of mass transit for the local Chinese, with few tourists, traveling along the same stretch of the river that is being gradually abandoned in anticipating of the rising waters.
Typical landscape along Yangtze River
End of hydrofoil journey -- near dam.

Three Gorges Dam at dusk.
The three gorges is a particularly beautiful section of the Yangtze river, although it seemed to take only a few minutes to go through the most dramatic sections. At the end of the trip, we pulled up next to several other freight boats and had to cross them to get to shore for the final leg of our journey to Yichang (60 km away).  Fortunately for me, there was a guide who was willing to take me around to see the dam before going back to Yichang.  We saw the transmission lines, the monument, and, of course, the dam itself.  The dam is over 2 km long, the largest in the world.  Still not at capacity (or even close), it is still possible to see the large machinery that eventually will be used to let water out.
Monument on mountain near dam.

My guide, a 25 year old, was conversant in English, and was clearly very proud of the dam.  His own family had been moved, and he admitted (but not at first) that many were unhappy to move. But his genuine pride for the dam and related projects was evident. Apparently, over 2000 (mostly Chinese) people visit the dam daily.

Unfortunately, it was already dusk by the time I arrived, so many photos didn’t turn out so well. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Greenpeace in China: Radical and Effective

Greenpeace China is one of the most “radical” of the Chinese NGOs – the member I spoke to was quite clear on this point. After all, who else would bring a glacier and polar bears to the UNFCCC?  But stunts aside, they are producing serious reports about the impact of climate change on the poor. In a report on “Climate Change and Poverty,” they describe three case studies, including the drought in the northwest, forcing 34,000 to leave their homes and the remaining residents left with limited water access; the torrential rains in the mountains causing mud-debris and landslides; and the floods and droughts impacting agriculture in the southeast and destroying homes and crops alike. Their website:  Photo courtesy of Greenpeace China.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Time for Reflection

Actually, the pause for reflection happened in the rather large plenary room as the Chair of the LCA convened a “taking stock” session. All of the text negotiation sessions have been closed to observers and press, so this was the first time the civil society had a formal glimpse as to how things were developing. The chair of AWG-LCA has divided the negotiation text into five tracks, which all seem to be making some progress.  She hopes that by limiting the negotiations to parties only, that more progress will be made.  So far, the chair believes that the possible outcomes for Cancun include: a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, including a long-term global goal for emission reductions; adaptation framework and approach to address loss and damage; economy-wide emission reduction commitments or actions by developed country Parties;  readiness phases of activities in the forest sector (REDD+); reducing emissions from bunker fuels; reporting on fast-start finance; mobilization of long-term finance; capacity-building. Unfortunately, there were several parties who voiced their disagreement with her assessment. One of the sticking points is that there is still disagreement about whether it all needs to be a complete package, or whether portions can be worked out and set before moving forward on the remainder. And, of course, there’s always the issue that the U.S. isn’t doing enough. Until now, another complaint is that China isn’t transparent enough, but with the progress China has demonstrably made, there is less talk about that in the corridors. Moravian College will have a delegation of 11 students, alumni, and faculty members at Cancun – we’ll keep you posted!
As for the meditation room, it seems mainly used by the Muslims in their daily prayers.  At the appropriate times of day, they wash their feet in the nearby bathroom and make their way to the meditation room down the hall.

Historic Flooding in China -- even as we meet

Today, the headlines in the China Daily newspaper read: “Record Rainstorms Hit Hainan.”  As of Wednesday afternoon, the record rainfall had forced evacuation of 137,000 people from their homes. It is the worst rain event since 1961.  More rain is expected – there is a tropical cyclone expected by early next week.  Over 1,000 villages were evacuated.  You can keep up on China’s news at the China Daily website:

Hosting the UNFCCC – One of the signs that China may be prepared to lead

Of the major players, China is coming out ahead. It seems to be more progressive – partly because it is being pushed by NGOs and its own citizens. China paid most (but not all) of the 5M$ to host the meeting. At first, they didn’t want NGOs to be allowed to have displays – it took months for the entire convention to be approved – but they did allow it at the end. The entire event is well organized, with no lines or difficulties. Many delegates arrived here on the high-speed train (which now covers 4000 miles of track, with 6000 more under construction), in a city that has begun work on the most ambitious eco-village to date.  Combined with the positive steps China has taken for climate change, it seems to be taking a leadership role.

China and Climate Change: one of the “bad boys” or “responsible parties”?

Many of the NGO side events have focused on China. And the reports are mixed.  One speaker, who works specifically with China and the U.S., called China and the U.S. the “two bad boys.” He noted that together, China and the U.S. contribute nearly half of the annual carbon emissions. And yet, they hide behind each other, each refusing to take the actions needed unless the other country meets specific demands first.  In a session sponsored by the NRDC, however, a more positive view was presented.  In their latest study (soon to be published on their website), they evaluated China’s commitments compared to BAU and found that China was very close to the International Energy Agency’s recommended levels of carbon intensity reduction of 47%. There’s still room for improvement – a slightly more ambitious target would mean peaking emissions in the 2020/2030 time frame. The Natural Resources Defense Council has lots of white papers on various topics related to climate change – this is a great place to find full-documented papers.  Three papers were prepared for Tianjin: “Putting it into Perspective: China’s Carbon Intensity Target”, “A Primer on the (Strong) Smart Grid and its Potential for Reducing GHG Emission in China and the United States”, and “Improving China’s Existing Renewable Energy Legal Framework: Lessons from the International and Domestic Experience.”  All will be available on their website.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Polar Bears at the UNFCCC

Yesterday, Greenpeace brought its own polar bear to the conference – alas, my camera ran out of batteries so I didn’t get a picture.

A Circular Economy

In the 11th 5-year program, China embraced the concept of a “Circular Economy.”  They  are committed to recycling everything , especially in their building programs. Right now, China uses over half the world's cement, along with 30% of steel and 20% of aluminum.  They are hoping that with the cicular economy, there will be more efficiency and a reduction of materials overall.

The Sands are Approaching Beijing

One-fifth of China’s countryside covered with sand from the Gobi desert, and sand dunes are a mere 150 km away from Beijing, advancing at 2 KM / year. The Chinese understand that deforestation is the cause, and afforestation is now a big part of their national program. They have planted 62 million hectares of artificial forests, achieving their goals ahead of schedule. Much of these trees were planted in time for the Green Olympics, forming a Green Wall.  Here in Tianjin, there are crews planting trees all along the roadways.

China’s Commitments to Address Climate Change

The chair of China’s Department of Climate Change led the panel that described the steps that China is taking to reduce their carbon intensity.  They believe that they have maintained a responsible attitude in their efforts, and have played an active role in the Kyoto Protocol framework and Copenhagen Accord.  They continue to make commitments for sustainable development, most notably by committing to a 40-45% reduction in energy per unit GDP by 2020!  To be clear, this is what they mean by reducing their carbon intensity; they are emphatic that their emissions will continue to rise (just not at the same rate as BAU).  They have already reduced their carbon intensity by 15.61%, working towards a goal of 20% by 2010. In terms of clean energy, hydro (380 GW), wind (150GW) and nuclear (70GW) are their biggest projects, followed by solar (20GW) and biomass (30GW).  It has not been easy for China to make these commitments and meet these goals.  They have over 150 million people living under the UN poverty line (earning less than $1/day). Furthermore, they must reserve their arable land for agriculture.  They also acknowledge that there have been logistical problems with the placement of nuclear plants (apparently China is not immune to the NIMBY problem), connecting solar and wind power to the energy grid, and finally, in displacing people for construction of dams.

In China, the government operates under a series of five-year plans.  The 40-45% goal was part of the 11th 5-year plan, which ends in 2010.  They are now planning for the 12th 5-year program, and the chair believes they will raise the targets again for reduction of CO2 intensity. In addition, they hope to organize more study and research on low carbon buildings and transportation.  They hope to increase the use of renewable energy by 10% and look for 20% forest coverage.  The government doesn’t actually announce the new 5-year program until March, so stay tuned! You can always check out their website at , with their report “China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change – the Progress Report.”

Climate Change Impacts in China

China has warmed already 1.5C since pre-industrial levels, and it’s already feeling the effects of climate change.  In a panel sponsored by the Asia Society, different impacts in China were presented, ranging from the melting glaciers to mangroves being lost due to increased storms.  Most urgently, the melting of glaciers is of concern since the glaciers represent the source of water for much of Asia. In the “Melt Through Time Machine,” there are “before” and “after” pictures of different glaciers showing that they are retreating at rapid rates. Soon, 3D pictures of the glaciers will be online as well!

The Tibetan nomads are particularly worried about the melting glaciers and changes in their environment. They note the shrinking grassland, worsening nutrition of the plants, reduced size of livestock, and decreased quality of yak milk.  Many of the Tibetans are being forced to emigrate as they are no longer able to sustain their way of life. Finally, the China Mangrove Conservation Network showed pictorial evidence of the destruction of mangroves due to increased storm activity.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The People in the Great Wall

In the entrance hall, there is a depiction of the Great Wall, made up of thousands of individual pictures.  Each photograph is of someone who has committed to personally acting to stop climate change, and wants to know if the delegates will do the same. It’s sponsored by tck tck tck, one of the most progressive and visible groups at these conferences.

Burning Coal in China

While Pennsylvanians may be familiar with the burning fires of Centralia, with coal fires burning underground over an area of 400 acres, there is no comparison to the coal fires in the north of China. In the Inner Mongolia and other northern regions, there have been coal fires for nearly 50 years, affecting 278 square miles.  The impact of the burning coal measures on a global scale: the burning coal is estimated to contribute 2-3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and about 10 percent of China’s national emissions total.  

Monday, October 4, 2010

"Scientific Perspectives after Copenhagen" or "Why Action is Required Now!"

One of the first side events was a panel which presented a summary of a recently published report: “Scientific Perspectives after Copenhagen.”  The report addresses one question: If enacted, will the current pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2oC? The short answer is no.  The scientists then look at dozens of scenarios to see what would be necessary to meet the 2 degree Centigrade threshold. They conclude that we would have to have peak emissions no later than 2015, followed by a reduction of emissions of 50-70% (from 1990 levels) by 2050. Essentially, for a ‘likely’ outcome, a 66% chance of meeting the goal, the global emissions would have to decrease globally by 3%/year.

One section of the report looks at the impacts of global temperature rise. At 2oC, studies predict a 20-30% of species at risk of extinction (with 40-70% of species threatened at 4oC). Water resources are already challenged, and at 1oC to 1.5oC, an additional .4 to 1.7 billion more people experiencing water stress. With 2-3oC, millions or tens of millions of people are at risk of flooding. When the floor was open for questions, the participants wanted to know if 1.5oC would be a better goal. The scientists, however, could not make the recommendation – there are few scientific studies that focus on the 1.5o limit, and they are scientists and their purpose is not to formulate policy. They noted, however, that the first ten years or so of working towards a 1.5oC goal looks much like the first ten years of a 2oC goal, and that the Copenhagen Accord specifically calls on a review of a potential 1.5oC limit in 2015.

To read this rather sobering report for yourself, go to, and download the attachment “document.” 

Meeting the Players

The opening plenary of AWG-LCA (Long-term cooperative action) directly followed the welcoming ceremony. The chair, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe (Zimbabwe) described the framework that she would follow in the coming week. After that, the floor was open to the parties – and we heard from the chairs of each of the different groups.  The groups are listed below, along with the country of the chair representing them:

G77 and China (Yemen)
African Group (Congo)
AOSIS - Alliance of Small Island States (Grenada)
LDCs – Least Developed Countries (Losotho)
EU – European Union
Umbrella Group (Australia; this group also includes U.S. and Canada)
Environmental Integrity Group (Switzerland; this group also includes
SICA – Central American Integration System (Belize)
ALBA – Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Venezuela)
Arab Group (Egypt)

Attending the UNFCCC Virtually

If you’re keen to follow the negotiations and events personally, you’re in luck. No air travel required.  The United Nations website is being continually updated, and the daily programme and other printed documents are available online.  All open negotiation sessions are streamed live and then placed in the archives. Sponsors of the side events (lectures, presentations, panels, workshops) make their handouts available on the UN site as well. And then, of course, there are the daily publications that are available to all participants.  Log on and join us!

Main website with webcasts:
Tianjin News Update (published as a newsletter):
Earth Negotiations Bulletin:
ECO (which has been published daily at major international conferences since 1972!):

Tianjin at the Crossroads

Every morning, my taxi takes me past more than five coal plants as we head from the suburbs (near the port) to the downtown area. I had hoped to take the Metro, but there is only one line, and it doesn’t go to the convention center.  My taxi makes its way through the crowded traffic on the 8-lane roads, navigating through the other small cars, buses and trucks. In this city of 12 million, there is construction everywhere, and smog is a major problem.  Water’s a problem too – they don’t have enough of it. As a result, they have the largest desalination plant here in Tianjin.  Technically, it’s a week-long national holiday, but the ‘rush hour’ is super congested – witness the complete standstill about one mile from my hotel.
Despite the dreary morning commute and clogged afternoon traffic, Tianjin is looking to be the model city in a low-carbon future. They are very concerned with recycling, and they refer often to their “circulation economy.” And their actual economy is booming. In the past two years, their GNP growth rate is 16.5%, and the last nine months has been at 19%. The average per capita income in Tianjin is $9000/yr, ten times that of the poorer rural areas. The national average is about $3500/yr. They have large factories for electric cars, lithium batteries, and windmills. There are no fewer than four nature reserves which protect the wetlands. And finally, there is the model Eco-village they are just now building.

You Never Know Who You’ll Meet

There is a lot of networking going on at these UNFCCC meetings. Many of the party members (with the government delegations) and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) attend all of the meetings each year, so it’s not surprising to see hundreds of people milling around and catching up with their friends at the Welcoming Ceremony.   On the bus from the airport, I met one man from the Environmental Defense Fund – although he is Indian and he works mainly in India, his home is in Texas! He works with Indian farmers, and I welcomed the opportunity to speak with him about Vandana Shiva who will be visiting Moravian College next week. Another rider on the bus was a Canadian who is one of the party members representing Grenada, one of the small island nations. His days will be a bit different from mine – organizational meetings in the mornings, drafting groups all day, and review/revisions every night! Everyone is friendly, and there does seem to be a shared desire to finalize an ambitious and fair agreement that is legally binding.

Changing Patterns of Transportation in China

I  first visited China in 1983, and I still remember the city streets filled with bicycles and rickshaws. I have arrived in China now, 27 years later, and the cities have been transformed. The road from the airport to Tianjin, nearly two hours away, is as modern as one can imagine.  The bullet train runs parallel to the highway, passing the coach.  In Tianjin itself, the streets and commercial districts are much like other large cities around the world.  The bikes, alas, are nearly gone.  Sure, there are a few bikes in sight, but you’ll find way more bicyclists in the European cities of Amsterdam or Berlin. There is ample room for the bicyclists should they come back, but they have been replaced by small cars, lots of taxis, and the more than occasional trucks carrying coal.  There is a modern train connecting the terminals at the airport, and, at the convention center, open shuttle buses like the ones found in theme parks quickly and efficiently transport participants to and from the registration area to the halls itself.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a good Metro system for the city itself, with only one line. Residents are forced to rely on autos or city buses. One major difference, though, is the price of transportation.  Gasoline is still $4-5/gallon, but my one-hour taxi ride is less than $20, and the two-hour coach from Beijing to Tianjin was only $15. 

Continuing Negotiations Underway in China – The Road to Cancun

The United Nations working groups on Long-Term Cooperative Action and the Kyoto Protocol are meeting this week in Tianjin, China, for their last negotiation sessions before the joint meetings in Cancun, Mexico in December. Since Copenhagen, there have been three other interim meetings in Bonn and numerous related conferences and workshops. An important meeting, the parties have been reminded that it is in “noone’s interest to delay action.”  I am here representing Moravian College as an official observer, and I hope to document the progress made here in Tianjin before the meetings in Cancun. I will also be sharing information about China, just as Moravian College participates in our first “InFocus” with China as the theme of the year.