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April 14th, 2008:

China ‘Now Top Carbon Polluter’

Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2008/04/14 23:11:35 GMT
By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment analyst

China has already overtaken the US as the world’s “biggest polluter”, a report to be published next month says.

The research suggests the country’s greenhouse gas emissions have been underestimated, and probably passed those of the US in 2006-2007.

The University of California team will report their work in the Journal of Environment Economics and Management.

They warn that unchecked future growth will dwarf any emissions cuts made by rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol.

The team admit there is some uncertainty over the date when China may have become the biggest emitter of CO2, as their analysis is based on 2004 data.

Until now it has been generally believed that the US remains “Polluter Number One”.

Provincial data

Next month’s University of California report warns that unless China radically changes its energy policies, its increases in greenhouse gases will be several times larger than the cuts in emissions being made by rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol

The researchers say their figures are based on provincial-level data from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency.

They say analysis of the 30 data points is more informative about likely future emissions than national figures in wider use because it allows errors to be tracked more closely.

They believe current computer models substantially underestimate future emissions growth in China.

We are awaiting a formal comment from the UK Chinese Embassy, but Dr Max Auffhammer, the lead researcher, said his projections had been presented widely and no-one had raised a serious complaint.

All those concerned about climate change agree that China’s emissions are a problem – including China itself.

But China and many other developing countries struggling to tackle poverty are adamant that any negotiated emissions reductions should not be absolute, but relative to a “business-as-usual” scenario of projected growth.

That is why this study is of more than academic interest.

‘Truly shocking’

If it becomes widely accepted that China’s future emissions are likely to be much higher than previously estimated, that will have to factored into any future global climate agreement if the Chinese are to be persuaded to take part.

In brief, although this study looks bad for China’s reputation, it may be good for China’s negotiating position.

The Chinese – and the UN – insist that rich countries with high per capita levels of pollution must cut emissions first, and help poorer countries to invest in clean technology.

America’s per capita emissions are five to six times higher than China’s, even though China has become the top manufacturing economy.

US emissions are still growing too, though much more slowly.

Dr Auffhammer told BBC News that his projections had made an assumption that the Chinese government’s recent aggressive energy efficiency programme would fail, as the previous one had failed badly.

“Our figures for emissions growth are truly shocking,” he said.

“But there is no sense pointing a finger at the Chinese. They are trying to pull people out of poverty and they clearly need help.

“The only solution is for a massive transfer of technology and wealth from the West.”

He acknowledged that this eventuality was unlikely.

Those scientists aspiring to stabilise global emissions growth before 2020 to prevent what they believe may be irreversible damage to the climate may be wondering how this can possibly be achieved.

In A Muddle Over Policy

Updated on Apr 14, 2008 – SCMP

There are times when I feel that the government is not being clear-headed about some of its policies.

That the topic of road pricing has been under discussion since 1980 reflects sluggishness on the part of officials, and an inability and sluggishness in solving this problem – and other similar problems like air pollution, health care and education.

The government makes swift decisions on large infrastructure and financial projects and officials are swift to take credit for their success. Handling social problems is not so glamorous – and is often tough.

So, in the end, we can only concur that a cheaper road price levy would be a means to generate more revenue rather than to reduce road congestion in Central District. What has the government to say about this warped logic?

Thomas Yeo, Tuen Mun

Green Brothers To Tackle China’s Environmental Crisis

In pod we trust

An unlikely trio adopts a fun approach to spread the green message on the mainland

Dinah Gardner – SCMP – Updated on Apr 14, 2008

Take a geeky-looking US student, an idealistic young mainlander, and an actor from Toronto, mix in video, some naff rap lines – “Wind energy, hey/ Reduce emissions, hey/ It’s green energy/ Hey! Hey! Hey!” – and the result is the China’s Green Beat website.

Calling themselves the Green Brothers, the unlikely trio of John Romankiewicz, Zhao Xiangyu and Rene Ng have been highlighting efforts to tackle China’s environmental crisis through quirky videos that they post on their site, and now hope to persuade young people that it’s hip to be green.

A visiting Fulbright scholar, 24-year-old Romankiewicz says they got the idea for the podcasts while he was tutoring Zhao in English. “Each time we met, we ended up spending all our time discussing China and the environment,” he says.

Green Beat started last September as a blog funded with remaining money from Romankiewicz’s scholarship, but has since grown into a website ( with five podcasts posted so far. Made in Putonghua with English subtitles, the earlier videos by Romankiewicz and Zhao, 20, featured topics such as Beijing’s recycling system, solar water heaters and biomass power plants.

The more recent addition of Canadian actor-director Ng, 32, who runs the Beijing International Theatre and Entertainment stage group, has injected more polish and humour into the productions. Take the episode titled Sun Zhe’s Transportation Adventures, in which the Green Brothers (kitted out in urban streetwear and comically dazzling bling) rap about the merits of public transport. The hero finds he becomes attractive to girls as soon as he starts taking the subway.

Such humorous efforts have won the brothers a growing number of fans, increasing respect and, more recently, international sponsorship. Last week, with help from China Dialogue, an international NGO with an environmental focus, they conducted a two-day workshop to teach university students how to make Green Beat-style videos.

The 30 participants came from all over the country – each representing a green group from their university – with 10 from Beijing and the remainder ranging from Xinjiang in the northwest to the manufacturing city of Wenzhou on the east coast.

Lacking the flash adopted by some larger NGOs, the workshop took a down-to-earth stance: the venue was a two-star hotel in the university district of Haidian and speakers were volunteers and students who took the bus to a recycling depot to practise shooting video.

Warming to Romankiewicz’s Putonghua efforts, Ng’s humour and Zhao’s enthusiasm – “This is just my passion,” he says – the participants exchanged real-life experiences and many came away fired up with ideas for producing their own podcasts.

They have a month to finish the assignment and the best short will win a 1,000 yuan (HK$1,115) prize.

Gao Wei-wei, a first-year law student at the University of Hong Kong, was touched by mainland participants’ tales of how their home villages had been poisoned by pollution. “My blood is boiling … to listen to these people’s stories from all over China,” she says. “Their stories took my breath away.”

The 19-year-old is already planning a video on excessive consumption in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong people are so materialistic. They waste so much,” says Gao, who views unsustainable consumption as the biggest threat to the environment in the region.

China Dialogue estimates there are now about 2,500 student environmental groups in the country. The number has grown steadily over the past decade, ranging from tiny groups such as Green Eyes, which was founded by a 17-year-old schoolboy eight years ago, to the sprawling China Youth Climate Action Network, which links climate change activist groups across the country.

Although the authorities tend to be wary of student movements, the green groups survive because they’re apolitical – there’s nothing subversive about picking up litter or encouraging people not to use plastic bags. “Green student groups don’t do anything controversial … it’s a pretty safe arena,” says Romankiewicz, who also researches renewable energy issues as an intern for information provider New Energy Finance.

And Green Beat is careful to keep it that way: at the workshop, students are told to avoid political comment when making the podcasts. “There’s no need at this point to make this political,” he says.

A graduate in materials science and engineering from Northwestern University, Romankiewicz says he was spurred into starting Green Beat by the pessimistic tone that foreign media took in covering environmental problems on the mainland.

Western reporters give the impression that the situation is hopeless, but there are good things going on, he says. “And the best way to inspire and encourage people to lead greener lives and make greener investments is through smart, fun and optimistic media.”

Romankiewicz rejects suggestions that Green Beat’s podcasts might lack bite. “You should be somewhat balanced and in the next few videos we’ll just be straight up,” he says. “But you can’t just make a video about pollution, saying it killed 20 people and then leave the viewer with no answers about how to solve this … there must be something people can do.”

The podcasts help show a more rounded picture of mainland efforts to heal environmental scars, says Zhao, who grew up in the coal-mining town of Qitaihe in Liaoning province. “We’re sick of western media only showing part of the truth with the environment story,” he says. “If you are a country with 1.3 billion people, how can you deal with this situation?”

Workshop participants such as Hou Xiaoting reckon Green Beat’s wacky methods work. “They’re doing really cool stuff, it’s a new way to promote the environment and it can attract a lot of people’s attention because it’s funny,” says the 23-year-old from Fudan University in Shanghai.

But given the gravity of China’s environmental woes, what can a group of students on a shoestring budget hope to achieve? The mainland is now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and contains 16 of the world’s most polluted cities. Expanding deserts now cover about one quarter of land surface and, despite the central government’s enthusiastic initiatives, local officials obsessed with growth and wealth rarely take heed.

Zhao reckons the answer lies with young people. “Maybe these students can’t change the situation now, but in the future they will get jobs, they’re the future.”

The students agree. “A lot of Chinese people, including many young people, feel frustrated, but I have hope in this country,” says Zhao Yue, a 22-year-old from Liaoning now studying earth sciences at the University of Hong Kong. “I believe change is around the corner.”