Lord Nicholas Stern and WRI China Country Director Zou Ji Host Joint Seminar on Climate Change in Beijing

WRI and Renmin University hosted a joint seminar with Lord Nicholas Stern and his colleagues from the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute, on Thursday, March 25, in Beijing, during which Lord Stern and some of Beijing’s leading climate change scholars discussed current efforts to mitigate climate change and the challenge of maintaining global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees centigrade.

The team from WRI and Renmin, led by WRI Country Director and Renmin University Professor Zou Ji, were joined by experts from the National Development and Reform Commission, the Education Ministry, and the Energy Research Institute, among others.

Lord Stern’s talk emphasized that the Copenhagen Accord is “worth something” and that the 2 degree centigrade commitment is “very important,” as are the financing and forestry commitments. He also noted that there has been progress since Copenhagen on both forestry and financing.

Lord Stern also addressed the unprecedented political aspects of Copenhagen, stating that three important things had “never happened before:” leaders making commitments on climate change, business pressing hard, and the engagement of the 4 BASIC countries (India, China, Brazil and South Africa) and the United States at the final table. He emphasized that even while there is much still to be done, these constitute considerable progress.

On the “to do” ledger, as he had at the China Development Forum, Lord Stern focused on mitigation. He presented numbers suggesting the pressing need to do more and a global carbon budget that he suggested would be a challenge for China. He then also went on to suggest that in addition to focusing on domestic mitigation, China also engage in developing new ideas in the technology area, an area where progress has thus far been slim.

In the discussion that followed, the group agreed that as former Energy Research Institute Director Zhou Dadi said, “high carbon development will kill itself.” Zhou was not arguing against the need for Chinese government policy; rather he was arguing that China’s policies for energy efficiency and renewable energy are likely to be successful, because the alternatives are unsustainable. Professor Zou presented his own model with estimates for China’s energy-related carbon use, which shows the increasing importance of energy efficiency and renewables. Prof. Zou’s model also shows the challenge of reducing overall carbon emissions in a still developing and in many places still poor country. He noted demand for basic energy services and infrastructure are still not fully met, and thus China’s overall energy use trajectory will be upward for some time. His model suggests that emissions might peak by 2030 by widely deploying carbon capture and storage.

The importance of both the domestic and international context was illustrated by NDRC Deputy Director-General Sun Zhen, who explained in response to a question, that he sees the “energy efficiency and pollution abatement” policy as focused on China’s domestic goals and national interest, while the newer “low carbon economy” is more closely tied to global interests and responsibilities.

Overall, the group found many areas of common interest for research and agreed on the urgency of both collaborative research and rapid action.

Photo by yewenyi, courtesy of a Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License.