Beijing Warms to Climate Change
Comment of the Day

December 17 2015

Commentary by David Fuller

Beijing Warms to Climate Change

Here is the opening of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s column for The Telegraph, using the paper’s headline rather than the online title currently shown:

Chinese scientists have published two alarming reports in a matter of weeks. Both conclude that the Himalayan glaciers and the Tibetan permafrost are succumbing to catastrophic climate change, threatening the water systems of the Yellow River, the Yangtze and the Mekong.

The Tibetan plateau is the world’s "third pole", the biggest reservoir of fresh water outside the Arctic and Antarctica. The area is warming at twice the global pace, making it the epicentre of global climate risk.

One report was by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The other was a 900-page door-stopper from the science ministry, called the “Third National Assessment Report on Climate Change”.

The latter is the official line of the Communist Party. It states that China has already warmed by 0.9-1.5 degrees over the past century – higher than the global average - and may warm by a further five degrees by 2100, with effects that would overwhelm the coastal cities of Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou. The message is that China faces a civilizational threat.

Whether or not you accept the hypothesis of man-made global warming is irrelevant. The Chinese Academy and the Politburo do accept it. So does President Xi Jinping, who spent his Cultural Revolution carting coal in the mining region of Shaanxi. This political fact is tectonic for the global fossil industry and the economics of energy.

Until last Saturday, it was an article of faith among Western climate sceptics and some in the fossil industry that China would never sign up to the COP21 accord in Paris or accept the "ratchet" of five-year reviews.

They have since fallen back to a second argument, claiming that the deal is meaningless because China will not sacrifice coal-driven growth to please the West, and without China the accord unravels since it now emits as much CO2 as the US and Europe combined.

This political judgment was perhaps plausible three or four years ago in the dying days of the Hu Jintao era. Today it is clutching at straws.

David Fuller's view

Here is a PDF of AE-P's Telegraph article.

On a needs must basis, China is belatedly now moving fast to lower its murderous urban air pollution, created by inefficient household uses of coal for cooking and heating, small industries and coal-fired power plants.  The same was true of London in the 1960s and also cities in many other developed countries.  In London, coal was being phased out in the late ‘60s and ‘70s but it was not uncommon to see it in household fireplaces, particularly in more rural regions of the UK.

China failed to anticipate its urban CO2 problem but it is now catching up rapidly in terms of power generation.  This will also boost China’s economy as it becomes an increasingly important global supplier of non-fossil fuels, from wind to solar and nuclear.     

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