China Climate Shift?

As the closing week of the Durban climate talks begins, China has caused a stir signaling that it might be willing to agree on a comprehensive agreement involving mandatory emissions cuts or targets. Until now, China's refusal to countenance any concrete objective--save improving the energy efficiency and carbon intensity of its economy over time--has been considered the main stumbling block to an agreement.

China's chief negotiator stated a handful of conditions for the country's joining in an agreement, prominent among them continued financing of green energy projects in developing countries by parties in rich countries. Possibly the specter of an impasse at Durban having a negative impact on carbon markets, discussed in a previous post, partly motivated China's change of position.

It's not easy to get an exact fix on China's attitude about climate policy. Earlier this year I was critical of those too willing to give China a pass. Yet a dozen years ago, when I spent a week in Beijing discussing climate change with government officials and academics, I was surprised how knowledgeable and open to ideas they were. If only because air pollution is such an obvious dire problem in China, everybody I talked with seem receptive to the idea of reducing fossil fuel emissions in principle.

Another element in China's thinking surely is water. On a subsequent trip to China, several years later, when visiting a big new dam on the upper Yellow River, I was startled to learn that the river itself was so drastically low it was not always making it all the way to its ocean outlet. The river's headwaters were shrinking because of long-term drought in the Gobi Dessert; dust storms were frequent and ubiquitous.

Last year, a Pew survey found that 70 percent of Chinese were willing to pay more for energy if that would help address global warming, versus just 38 percent in the United States.

It would be interesting to hear from readers who have had recent conversations or relevant experiences in China.

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