【英语中国】艰难的中国减排之路 Chinese pollution

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2014-5-7 06:34

小艾摘要: When it comes to difficult government jobs, few are as tricky as the one held by Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief negotiator on climate change.On the day he agrees to meet the Financial Times, in a room th ...
Chinese pollution
When it comes to difficult government jobs, few are as tricky as the one held by Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief negotiator on climate change.

On the day he agrees to meet the Financial Times, in a room the size of a basketball court near his office in the country’s economic planning ministry, the air outside is “unhealthy”. At least, that is what it says on the smartphone air quality apps people in Beijing check as obsessively as Londoners watch weather forecasts.

Much of the smog comes from cars but it also drifts in from the coal-powered plants that have helped propel China’s economy into second place after the US – and turned it into a carbon dioxide polluter like no other.

China’s hunger for coal meant it pumped out almost 10 gigatons of CO2 in 2012, more than the US and the EU combined and nearly a third of the global total. Despite its 1.3bn population, China’s emissions per head are higher than those of France, Italy and Spain and nearly equal to the EU average.

This makes Mr Xie’s position difficult. For most of the past decade, the 64-year-old engineer has represented China in the international climate talks launched nearly 20 years ago to curb emissions of CO2 , the main man-made greenhouse gas scientists say is warming the atmosphere to potentially dangerous levels.

Those talks have failed to stop the fastest rise in emissions on record over the past decade, due in large part to China, which has resisted outside pressure to rein in carbon pollution.

Mr Xie has been known to bang the odd table in climate talks when confronted with what he felt were unrealistic demands from other countries. But now, he says, the pollution visible each day outside his windows is forcing China to change regardless of what the outside world wants.

“It’s fair to say the smog issue and climate change issue are caused to some extent by the same source,” he says. “The smog has pushed us to make greater decisions to accelerate the transformation of our development and living model, and transform the economic, industrial and energy structure.”

In other words, China wants to build on what Mr Xie describes as the “tremendous efforts” already made to replace coal power with cleaner energy sources as its economy matures and becomes less reliant on heavy industry. The question is whether China is willing, or even able, to make such changes in time to prevent global temperatures warming to potentially risky levels.

Mr Xie bristles at the question. “Sometimes the international community wonders whether China will take real action,” he says. “There should be no question on this issue. China will definitely take action, not only in terms of protecting people’s livelihoods and health but also making a contribution to global climate-change efforts.”

It is true that China is taking astonishing strides to switch from coal to cleaner forms of power. Of the 94 gigawatts of new generating capacity it installed last year, almost 60 per cent was renewable. That included more than 11GW of solar, enough to power a small Chinese city and more than any country has built in a single year.

Solar, wind and hydropower now account for nearly a third of its installed electricity generating capacity, compared with less than 15 per cent in the US. It is also piloting emissions trading systems that could lead to a national carbon market by 2020.

But its addiction to coal is far from over. Fossil fuels, mostly coal, still make up nearly 70 per cent of its power generating capacity. Although it plans to boost sharply its nuclear and renewable power, it is also expected to add 248GW of coal capacity between now and 2020, according to IHS, the consultancy – equal to about three new coal plants every month.

Other factors underline the im-mense scale of the challenge China faces as it tries to wean itself off the coal choking its cities. Hydropower dams are by far is main source of renewable energy but cannot be ex-panded infinitely. Nuclear power is ex-pensive. The country’s shale gas industry is in its infancy. Coal is not just cheap – it is ingrained in an economy that is the world’s workshop.

Interviews with officials and advisers working on energy and climate policies suggest China has something in common with St Augustine, who prayed for chastity but not yet.

Yes, it wants to reduce its emissions, but perhaps not as fast as climate science might dictate.

Despite 30 years of remarkable economic growth, China still has almost 100m people living below the national poverty line of Rmb2,300 a year, or less than $400. The idea that it should cut its emissions as fast as western countries before it achieves a comparable standard of living remains deeply unpopular. “China is not Chad,” says Mr Xie, referring to one of the world’s poorest countries. “But on the other hand, China is not the US, the EU or even Japan.”

Those countries’ emissions peaked when per capita GDP was $10,000 to $15,000, and sometimes as much as $30,000, he says, yet the figure in China is still around $6,000.

So what does China really want? Part of the answer may come in September when heads of state are expected to spell out how they plan to tackle climate change at the UN.

The event has been designed to focus attention on the international climate negotiations, which are due to produce a global deal on tackling carbon emissions late next year in Paris.

China has said it will cut the amount of carbon it produces as a proportion of GDP by at least 40 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. This is a far cry from the absolute cut in emissions offered by the EU, the US and other industrialised economies.

China’s position is understandable, says Prof Detlef van Vuuren of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, who was also an author of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

China’s economy is growing much faster than that of European countries, “so for us it is much easier to reduce emissions in an absolute sense”, he says.

That raises the question of when China’s emissions are likely to peak, either naturally or with policy effort.

The Dutch agency recently took part in a sweeping study that tried to answer this question using a range of climate-economy models. Most suggested that without more stringent policies, emissions would keep rising until at least 2050.

They showed the most cost-effective way of stopping global temperatures rising more than 2C from pre-industrial times – a threshold some scientists say should not be breached – is for China’s emissions to peak shortly after 2020. Temperatures have already risen by nearly 1C.

Action could be delayed beyond 2030 but this would be more costly because it would require deeper emissions cuts later. Could China stop its emissions rising as early as 2020?

The influential Beijing think-tanks and institutes that advise ministries such as the National Development and Reform Commission, where Mr Xie is vice-chairman, have been working on an assessment of a likely peaking period.

The findings may be ready in time for the September summit but there is still plenty of disagreement about a realistic peaking date, according to analysts working on the topic.

“Frankly, we have a very broad range of projections,” says Zou Ji of China’s National Centre for Climate Change Strategy. “Xie and Su Wei [Mr Xie’s negotiating colleague in the climate talks] ask us again and again, which figure is more reliable and more reasonable?”

The trouble is there are enormous problems to consider, he says. “People say: ‘Oh, coal is so dirty, let’s shut down the coal mines.’ But on the other hand we also see a very rapid increase in demand for electricity and it seems we cannot stop that.

“Furthermore, we also see over 10m employees in coal factories. If we shut down some of the coal mines, how will those unemployed workers be addressed with a very weak social security system?”

Small wonder that Fuqiang Yang, senior climate and energy adviser at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a US group that operates in China, says the emissions-peaking debate has been fraught. “The first study five years ago said China’s emissions peak will be in 2035. Many Chinese government officials said ‘Why did you say that? It’s too soon’?”

He Jiankun of China’s Tsinghua University is one of the most senior advisers on climate change and has spent months trying to balance the myriad unknown variables that go into calculating China’s likely emissions peak.

These include how much its growing economy will slow down in the coming decades; what the energy mix will be and how much more efficient the industrial and transport structure will become.

It is a tough calculation in a planned economy that rarely performs according to the plan.

He figures the peak will be around 2030, based on the idea that economic growth will gradually slow to about 5 per cent a year, that more of China’s energy will be generated from low-carbon sources and that it will be able to reduce the amount of pollutants generated per unit of GDP by 3.5 per cent every year for the next 16 years.

Any number of Prof He’s calculations are open to disagreement. Just discussing whether China’s one-party system can sustain an economic slowdown to less than 5 per cent is difficult for Chinese researchers. But the weight of probability points to a deceleration of the economy from today’s 7.4 per cent growth.

There is a risk that if growth slows too fast it will trigger another attempt by Beijing to juice the economy with a shot of loose credit, as it did in 2008 after the global financial crisis and, to a lesser extent, last summer.

Such stimulus efforts tend to flood the state-owned, heavy industrial sector with money, unbalancing any natural transition in the economy to a more mature, service-led structure.

A bigger problem is the assumption that China can continue to wring the same amount of energy efficiency and improvements in emissions year after year, long after the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.

One notable aspect of a recent paper by Prof He, however, is the extent to which it examines how emissions peaked in the US, the EU and Japan as their economies moved beyond the rapid industrialisation China is now undergoing.

And that goes to the heart of what China offers in the Paris climate talks. “China is definitely going to offer more ambitious mitigation action and contributions than what it has offered previously,” Prof He has said in an interview.

But this will depend on progress in the negotiations, he added, “including the principle of equity”.

Environment: Still dreaming of a blue sky

The smog was so bad that people’s eyes streamed on the way to work. Drivers had to pull over to the side of the road because they could not see for their tears. Officials fretted the pollution was a menace to aviation.

This was not Beijing, Shanghai or any of the other Chinese cities where a thick pall of smog regularly engulfs residents. It was Los Angeles almost 60 years ago, one of two western cities famous for choking levels of air pollution.

The other was London, where smog blanketed the city so heavily in 1952 that it killed an estimated 4,000 people.

It took decades for each city to clean their skies but Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate change official, thinks Beijing’s smog can be fixed in as little as five years, even though its pollution is in some ways more dire.

“The London smog was caused mainly by coal combustion and sulphur dioxide emissions and Los Angeles’ smog was mainly caused by auto emissions,” he says.

China has suffered both problems simultaneously, he adds, but by absorbing lessons from abroad it should be able to tackle its smog faster.

“We have published 10 measures to address air pollution,” says Mr Xie. “If those measures can be honoured, it will take five to 10 years for Beijing to have a clear sky.”

Whether this comes to pass remains to be seen but there is no lack of plans being rolled out to address China’s unnerving environmental woes. There appears to be an air of increasing openness about the problem. This month, a government report that had previously been classified a state secret was published, showing one-fifth of China’s agricultural land is polluted. In March, officials revealed that only three of its 74 largest cities met national air-quality standards.

On Thursday, China finally passed long-awaited revisions to its Environmental Protection Law, removing a loophole that kept the cost of polluting lower than the cost of installing cleaner technology and opening the door to more public monitoring.

This comes as Li Keqiang, China’s premier, declared a “war on pollution”, but as anyone breathing the air in the country’s largest cities will attest, victory is still far from evident.

Additional reporting by Owen Guo

说到政府部门的职位,很少有比中国在气候变化问题上的首席谈判代表解振华的工作更棘手的。

不久前,解振华同意接受英国《金融时报》的采访,地点安排在他在中国发改委的办公室附近一间篮球场大小的房间里。当天户外的空气质量为“不健康”;至少,智能手机上的空气质量应用是这么说的。北京市民对此类应用的痴迷程度,不亚于伦敦人对天气预报的重视。

大量雾霾来自汽车尾气,但燃煤电厂也是来源之一。这些电厂推动中国成为仅次于美国的第二大经济体,也将这个国家变成世界头号二氧化碳排放国。

中国对煤炭的巨大需求意味着,它在2012年排放了近100亿吨二氧化碳,超过美国和欧盟(EU)的总和,占全球总排放的近三分之一。尽管拥有13亿人口,但中国的人均排放量仍高于法国、意大利和西班牙,几乎等于欧盟平均水平。

这让解振华的处境很困难。在过去10年的大部分时间里,这位现年64岁、工程师出身的官员代表中国参加国际气候谈判。这些谈判于近20年前启动,目的是遏制二氧化碳排放。二氧化碳是主要的人为制造的温室气体,科学家称,它正使大气层的温度升至潜在危险的水平。

谈判未能阻止排放量在过去10年创下有记录以来最快的增速。这在很大程度上要归因于中国,中国一直在抵制外界要求其控制碳排放污染的压力。

在气候谈判中,如果解振华认为其他国家提出了过分的要求,他有时会拍桌,这让他出名。但现在他表示,窗外天天可见的污染,正在迫使中国做出改变——无论外国提出什么样的要求。

“不夸张地说,雾霾问题和气候变化问题在一定程度上是相同来源造成的,”他表示,“雾霾促使我们做出更重大的决定,加速转变发展和生活模式,转变经济、工业和能源结构。”

换言之,随着中国经济日渐成熟和降低对重工业的依赖,它希望在解振华所称的用更清洁能源代替燃煤发电的“巨大努力”基础上,更上一层楼。问题在于,中国愿不愿意(或者能不能够)及时做出改变,阻止全球气温升至潜在高风险的水平?

对于这个问题,解振华面露愠色。“国际社会有时候怀疑中国会不会采取切实行动,”他表示,“这件事应该是不存在问题的。中国肯定会采取行动,不仅是为了保护人民的生命财产和健康,也要为全球应对气候变化的努力做出贡献。”

没错,中国正在迈出惊人的大步,从燃煤发电转向更清洁的发电方式。去年中国新增的9400万千瓦发电装机容量中,近60%使用可再生能源。这其中包括超过1100万千瓦的太阳能,足以为中国的一座小型城市供电,并且高于其他任何国家一年的新增装机容量。

目前,太阳能、风电和水电占中国发电装机总量的近三分之一,而美国的这一比例不到15%。中国还在进行排放交易系统的试点,有望到2020年建立全国性的碳市场。

但中国对煤炭的依赖还远未结束。化石燃料(主要是煤炭)仍占发电能力的近70%。尽管中国计划大幅增加核电和可再生能源发电的比重,但咨询机构IHS表示,预计2020年前中国也将新增24800万千瓦的燃煤发电装机容量,相当于每月新建约三座燃煤电厂。

燃煤让中国的城市乌烟瘴气。但在中国试图摆脱对煤炭的依赖之际,其它一些因素突显中国面对的巨大挑战。水电大坝目前是中国遥遥领先的最主要可再生能源,但不可能无止境地建设下去。核电成本高昂。中国的页岩气行业仍处于发展初期。煤炭不仅廉价,在身为世界工厂的中国经济中,煤炭也根深蒂固、盘根错节。

对能源和气候政策领域的官员和顾问的采访似乎表明,中国与圣奥古斯丁(St Augustine)有共同之处。后者曾祈祷:“赐予我贞洁吧,但不是现在。”

没错,中国希望减少排放,但它或许不想以气候科学可能要求的速度迅速减排。

虽然30年来中国的经济增长令人瞩目,但中国仍有近1亿人生活在每年2300元人民币(不到400美元)的国家贫困线以下。中国应当在实现与西方可比的生活水平之前像西方那么快地减排——这种观点仍极不受欢迎。“中国不是乍得,”解振华提到的乍得是世界最贫穷的国家之一,“但另一方面,中国也不是美国、欧盟或日本。”

他表示,这些国家的碳排放在人均GDP达到1万至1.5万美元(一些情况下甚至是3万美元)时达到顶峰,而中国的人均GDP还在6000美元左右。

那么,中国真正想要的是什么?今年9月各国首脑在联合国(UN)阐述各自的气候变化对策时,我们或许将看出一些眉目。

按计划,此次联合国会议将重点关注国际气候谈判。此轮谈判定于在明年后期的巴黎气候大会上达成应对碳排放的全球协议。

中国表示,到2020年,其碳排放与GDP的比例将至少比2005年水平降低40%。比起欧盟、美国和其他工业化国家提出的排放量绝对值削减,中国的目标相去甚远。

但政府间气候变化问题小组(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC)最新报告的作者之一、荷兰环境评估局(PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency)的德特勒夫?范维伦(Detlef van Vuuren)表示,中国的立场可以理解。

他表示,中国经济增长远远快于欧洲国家,“所以对我们来说,削减排放量绝对值要容易得多。”

这就带出了一个问题:中国的排放量何时将见顶(自然或是受政策努力的影响)?

荷兰环境评估局近期参与了一项大范围的研究,该项研究借助一系列气候-经济模型来尝试回答这个问题。大多数模型似乎显示,若没有更严厉的政策,排放增长将至少延续至2050年。

这些模型表明,若要阻止全球气温升高到比工业化之前时期高出2摄氏度(一些科学家称,不应突破这一门槛)的水平,成本效益最好的办法是让中国的排放量在2020年后不久见顶。全球气温已经比工业化之前升高了近1摄氏度。

行动可以推迟到2030年以后,但代价将更为高昂,因为那将要求对排放量进行更大幅度的削减。中国能否在2020年就阻止排放量继续上升?

北京一些具有影响力、为国家发改委(解振华担任副主任)等政府部门提供建议的智库和研究机构一直在评估排放量可能在何时见顶。

到9月份联合国峰会时,研究结果可能已经出炉。但研究这一课题的分析人士表示,各方对于现实的见顶日期还存在不少分歧。

“坦白地说,我们预测的结果区间很大,”中国国家气候变化战略中心的邹骥表示,“解振华和苏伟(与解振华一同出席气候谈判的代表)三番五次问我们,哪一份数据更可靠、更合理?”

他表示,困难在于要考虑许多严峻的问题。“人们说:‘哎,煤炭太脏了,把煤矿关掉吧。’但另一方面,我们发现用电需求迅速增加,看上去也无法阻止这一势头。

“此外,煤企雇佣着1000多万人。如果我们关闭一些煤矿,考虑到社会保障体系十分薄弱,失业工人应当如何安排?”

难怪在中国开展研究项目的美国自然资源保护委员会(Natural Resources Defense Council)的气候与能源高级顾问杨富强表示,围绕碳排放何时见顶的辩论一直问题重重。“五年前的第一项研究称,中国的排放量峰值将在2035年到来。许多中国政府官员表示‘为什么这么说?太早了。’”

中国清华大学的何建坤是气候变化问题上最为资深的顾问之一,最近他花费数月时间权衡大量未知变量,计算中国排放量可能见顶的日期。

这些变量包括:中国增长中的经济在未来几十年将以多大的幅度放缓;未来的能源结构将是什么样的;以及工业和交通的效率将提高多少。

对于中国这样很少按计划运行的计划经济,估算的难度很大。

他估计,峰值将在2030年前后出现,依据是中国经济年增速将逐渐降至5%左右,中国更多能源产出将来自低碳来源,以及中国能够在未来16年将单位GDP产生的污染物每年降低3.5%。

何建坤教授估算的任何一个数字都可能引发意见分歧。中国的一党制体系能否承受经济放缓至5%以下?光是讨论这个问题,就让中国的研究人员头疼。但概率加权显示,经济增速将从目前的7.4%逐渐减速。

目前存在的一个风险是:如果增长放缓过于剧烈,中国政府将试图为经济注入又一轮宽松信贷,它在2008年全球金融危机后曾这样做过,去年夏天又再次祭出此招,尽管规模较小。

此类刺激往往意味着向国有的重工业注入大量资金,从而扰乱中国经济自然地向更成熟、服务业主导的结构转型。

更大的一个问题是,估算基于这样一种假设:在“好摘的果子”摘完之后,中国还能继续年复一年地取得等量的能效和减排改善。

不过,何建坤近期一篇论文中有一点值得关注:它深入研究了美国、欧盟和日本经济在走过中国正经历的快速工业化之后,它们的排放量是如何见顶的。

这将触及中国在巴黎气候大会上提议的核心。“中国无疑将比以往提出更为宏伟的减排目标,做出更大的贡献,”何建坤在一次采访中表示。

但他补充称,这将取决于谈判的进展,包括“公平原则”。

环境:不变的蓝天之梦

雾霾如此严重,以至于人们上班路上会流泪。驾驶员不得不把车停到路边,因为眼泪模糊了他们的视线。官员们担心污染威胁航空安全。

这不是北京、上海或是任何一座经常被浓重雾霾笼罩的中国城市,而是近60年前的洛杉矶。西方有两座城市曾以呛人的空气污染而闻名,洛杉矶是其一。

另一座是伦敦。1952年,浓雾笼罩伦敦,据估计导致4000人丧生。

它们各花了数十年才恢复了天空的清洁,但中国在气候变化问题上的最高级别官员解振华(见右图)认为,虽然北京的污染在某些方面更为严重,但该市的雾霾可以在短短5年时间内解决。

“伦敦雾霾主要由燃煤和二氧化硫排放引起,洛杉矶的雾霾主要由汽车尾气排放引起,”他表示。

他补充称,中国正同时遭遇上述两种问题,但如果汲取国外教训,它应当能更快地解决雾霾问题。

“我们公布了10项措施来解决空气污染,”解振华表示,“如果认真落实这些措施,5到10年就能还北京一片晴空。”

治霾结果如何还有待观察,但中国确实出台了不少计划来应对令人不安的环境问题。在这一问题上,中国似乎表现得越来越公开透明。上月,一份之前被列为国家机密的政府报告发布,显示出中国五分之一的农业用地受到污染。今年3月有官员透露,在中国最大的74座城市中,只有3座达到国家空气质量标准。

最近,中国终于通过了各方期待已久的修订版《环境保护法》,堵住了污染成本低于安装清洁技术成本的漏洞,并且为加强公众监督敞开了大门。

与此同时,中国总理李克强宣告“向污染宣战”。但在中国大城市呼吸空气的每一个人都会证明,胜利还遥远得很。

Owen Guo补充报道

译者/何黎

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