Monday, July 21, 2008

China and Climate Change

Finishing up and intense round of meetings in 10 days - here is a mixture of comments in no particular order:
1.The biggest shock to me has been how incredibly open and direct people I have met have been – even those close to and advising the government. With the exception of a group of young journalists, I have not had to worry about causing offense by challenging their views or assumptions. And pretty much anything has been game for discussion.
2.The other big shock has been how small the number of people working on climate and advising the government is given the size of the country. Talk to about 25 people and you have the terrain pretty much covered. It is like dealing with he elite of a very small country. I am only beginning to get a feel for then range of views. A few think the whole international discussion is an expression of anti-Chinese politics by the West. But more important, many of those who do think (seriously) about climate change, seem to view it solely through the lens of national interest. I have been surprised by the small number of cosmopolitan intellectuals who take a global perspective – or both a global and national perspective. Cynicism about nationalism is hard to find!
3.What everyone agrees on is that development is a non-negotiable priority … as a moral duty and perhaps (sotto voce) a political one as well for those in power. Yet (nearly) everyone (who has thought about climate change) seems confident that development goals can be realized along with no more than a fair share of carbon output. That is going from the current per capita output to no more than China’s share of a world maximum needed to stabilize at 450 part per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I ran into very few knowledgeable skeptics - even as 500 million are going to move from the rural areas to the cities and 200 million cars will be added to the roads between now and 2030 along with a doubling of coal consumption. Lots of technical discussions about the assumptions underlying this optimism – but the upshot is that they are not assuming an major new scientific breakthroughs up to 2030 (aside from CO2 capture and sequestration at scale) and nothing really dramatic until after 2050.
4.Another surprise has been how little skepticism they show that the US will get serious post the next election – although from their point of view, a serious plan has to have a 2050 goal of a fair per capita carbon allowance that applies to the US as well as everyone else. I have been surprised by their attitude that takes it for granted that we and they are going to get serious about this – although they are also worried abut the Catholic Church and India blowing world population beyond 9.5 billion as a stabilizing goal for 2050.
5.Those close to the government, are trying to convince the leadership that China’s climate plan should be serious because it is consistent with domestic environmental needs and economic growth at 7-8% a year.

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