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Lessons from China


Lessons from China

Najib Saab

 February 2011, Al-BiaWal-Tanmia (Environment and Development)

The title of the paper distributed by China on the last day of the Cancún Conference on climate change clearly reflected the whereabouts of negotiations: "While we continue to talk, China is working". It asserts that states should not fail to take practical measures to address the challenges of climate change while waiting to reach legally binding agreements. It also details China's programs for energy conservation, use of renewable energy and reduction of emissions from conventional energy sources, including a 20-40% reduction of emissions from burning coal for electricity generation.

China is building its new economy by taking advantage of a historic opportunity. The Chinese realize that the future is for lower carbon economies, but they are speeding up the pace of development and production during a grace period that absolves China, as a developing country, from complying with mandatory requirements to reduce emissions. However, China is aware that this grace period will not last long, and that less carbon-intensive products shall be required in the near future. Thus, they are now a leading producer of solar panels and photovoltaic cells, and are implementing a plan to produce approximately ten million electric cars, which will make China the main source of clean energy technology and products. It is worth noting here that France declared its intention to slow down its photovoltaic electricity generation scheme because the cells come mostly from China, causing a sharp shift in trade balance.

China is actually planning to flood the world with products needed for the shift to "green economy", but the price to be paid is the increase of emissions from Chinese plants which are still unaccountable. Working without binding restrictions, Chinese manufacturers can sell at competitive prices unmatched by other countries. The secret lies in the historic responsibility principle set by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under the title common but differentiated responsibility, that imposed prompt restrictions on developed countries as the source of most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since the industrial revolution. On the other hand, UNFCCC allowed developing countries an additional period of pollution, to attain development at lower costs. This is the essence of the Kyoto Protocol, whose first period of obligations ends in 2012.

Fearing the giant Chinese and other emerging economies - India, Brazil and South Africa - Japan led a campaign to modify the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, to ensure reaching a new equitable and effective agreement, with the participation of all major economies around the world, as stated in the address of the Japanese Environment Minister before the Cancún Conference. There is a prevailing consensus on continuing to allow developing countries flexible emission mitigation requirements. Yet it is illogical that an economic giant as big as China should stay outside the formula. In this "hide and seek game", China, at times, hides behind the coalition of developing nations known as the Group of 77 (G77), exploiting them repeatedly,  and at other times, disagrees with these nations when it agrees with the United States, as it did  at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009.

China is serving its interests, and has the right to do so. But the Chinese know that it is impossible to go on indefinitely, and that extension of the Kyoto Protocol will require amendments to be negotiated and agreed upon sooner rather than later. But in trying to achieve the best conditions, China needs to shift rapidly to a Green Economy, knowing that such a move is inevitable.

A green economy uses natural resources efficiently and minimizes wastage and contamination, which is a must in responding to the challenges posed by the climate change that almost represents all the environmental problems. The Arab countries' shift to a green economy will be the theme of AFED's 2011 annual report, which covers eight sectors: Energy, Water, Agriculture, Industry, Cities and Green Buildings, Transport, Waste Management and Tourism. A group of prominent experts started developing the report, which will examine possible transition patterns in each of these sectors, in order to reach sustainable use of resources, protect the environment, and meet the challenges of climate change, while ensuring economic and social development.

China genuinely declared in Cancún that it was working while talks were taking place. They are actually taking advantage of a historic opportunity to prepare for a new era based on Green Economy. Arab states should follow suit by benefiting from the "grace period" to convert oil revenues to advanced technology and by diversify their economies, so that they will be well positioned to face the future.

AFED's report on Arab Green Economy  which will be submitted to the Annual Conference at the end of 2011, will not only identify weaknesses and propose a roadmap for building an Arab Green Economy, but will also highlight the promising attempts in this domain that are undertaken by some countries in the region: technology programs, renewable energy and solar-powered desalination in Saudi Arabia; Abu Dhabi's Masdar Future Energy; solar and wind energy projects in Morocco, Algeria and Egypt; green building councils in several countries, and the introduction of  carbon capture and storage projects.

AFED will work with Arab countries to present to the world, in future global conferences, reports entitled "As we speak, Arab countries are working".

Waiting is no longer an option!



Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
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