China is a rapidly industrialising nation and from the late 1980's it has changed from a producer of surplus energy to a net importer. In consequence it is now the case that China is the worst emitter of CO2 other than the United States. Since China is a developing nation it is not bound to hold-back its emissions by the Kyoto Treaty, and would probably be reluctant to do so as it works to industrialise itself out of poverty. The government there is nevertheless in possession of the facts about climate change and the nation is making efforts to find alternative sources of energy - including solar and wind-power - in an effort to reduce its emissions. In 2005, a report was published which reviewed the whole picture about China's energy and climate change and concluded that similar effects are to be expected in China as pertain everywhere else: for example, sea levels have risen by between 1 and 2.5 mm per year, and temperatures during the same period on average increased by 0.6 - 0.8 degrees C. Given its geography, climate change will render the China at risk of damage from sea level rises, drought, flooding, sand storms (e.g. from the Gobi Desert), tropical cyclones and periods of excessive heat (heat waves).
China is made up of different climatic zones and physical landscapes: the north west of the country is arid and semi-arid, and is particularly susceptible to forces of erosion; in contrast, a warmer climate might prove a driver for increased agricultural output in the north east. In the central and eastern regions, winters tend to be cold and summers are hot, and it is here that a booming building industry is demanding ever increasing amounts of energy to fuel it. The coasts of the south and east are densely populated and could be damaged economically by sea level rises, especially in the Zhujiang and Yangtze areas. It is China's large dependence on coal, which pays 75% of the national total energy bill that lies at the root of the problem of rising emissions, coupled with booming industry and rapid urbanisation. In the year 2000 China contributed about 15% of the worlds anthropogenic CO2, while America produced about 21%, but according to an analysis by the Pew Centre in the U.S., China will exceed America within 20 years.
In 1960, China's industrial sector burned around 300 million tonnes of coal equivalent, which doubled by 1980, and by 2000 that had more than doubled again; in 2004 the quantity accelerated to almost 2 billion tonnes, and exceeded the county's production output of 1.85 billion tonnes coal equivalent (tce). Hence in just a decade, China has shifted from being a net exporter to a new importer of coal.
There seems little doubt that the demand will continue to ascend as China is now a "developing giant" with a propelling economy, but the same problems that we see in more developed nations, of pollution and energy supply are now paramount there too. Can we really continue to "fuel the dragon", as I read a headline the other day, who's hunger grows unabated.
Although China has never been in denial about climate change it has maintained the view (quite reasonably) that it is developed countries who must bear responsibility for past emissions, and that they should also limit future emissions, helping developing nations such as there's to do likewise in the future by providing new technologies to assist them to that end. On the international stage, China considers that negotiations over climate change as central to foreign policy and that it and other developing countries need to defend their rights in regard to any treaty's and decisions.
Although China has refused to limit its emissions during international negotiations, on its own soil, China is working to diversify - to find ways for energy efficiency and new sources of it, including renewables. The reasons, however, are not mainly a desire to comply with the developed world's global climate policy but primarily matters of society and economy. That issues of security of supply and pollution are paramount, as they are in the U.K., and elsewhere. To this end, there is heavy investment ongoing in hydropower, nuclear, solar, wind and biomass - the whole portfolio that the U.K. government has also envisaged with which to provide energy up to 2050, as I wrote about in my very first of these postings. Impressively, south-west China is thought to be capable of producing 40 gigawatts of hydropower by 2020, which could supply dozens of cities with populations of around half a million.
As the negotions unfold in the wake of Kyoto, many are of the opinion that China will need to cut its emissions beyond 2012, but given the levels of poverty there, with mean incomes below $110 in 2004, there is still much development required before a significant elevation of living standards can be expected. It is in China's best interests to participate in the world efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change both internationally and in their own back yard. It seems likely that China will not so much reduce its emissions especially, but will provide some of the additional demands of its surging economic expansion using renewable sources.