LOW-CARBON ROADMAP: About 500 participants came to the conference to exchange view and experiences on coping with climate changes with low-carbon solutions (CNSPHOTO)
Unresolved issues at the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen were revisited in Beijing on May 7-9. Officials, experts, scholars and entrepreneurs from across the world discussed bottlenecks in international cooperation to ensure a global low-carbon future.
The three-day International Cooperative Conference on the Green Economy and Climate Change was organized by the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, China's top think tank of the National Development and Reform Commission. With topics centered on low carbon, new energy and sustainable development, the conference aimed to enhance communication and understanding among nations on the world's green economic growth and green endeavor in China.
The conference consisted of six sub-forums where about 500 participants exchanged views and experiences on a wide range of topics, including ways to ensure a stronger capacity to cope with climate change and mankind's sustainable development. These include the policies and frameworks to promote international cooperation, corporate social responsibility and public participation in adapting to low-carbon production or lifestyles, technology innovation, as well as carbon finance.
While delivering a speech at the opening ceremony, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang called for developed nations to assist the developing world in its green economy endeavor through technology transfers, financial assistance and market liberalization.
Officials and scholars at the sub-forum titled Low-carbon Technology Innovation and Technology Transfer also urged cheaper prices for low-carbon technology transfers. Some called for a fair and effective framework of international cooperation that allows countries to support each other in fulfilling carbon emission reduction commitments.
The world's transition to a low-carbon economy is gathering support and is expected to catalyze a new industrial revolution. But in pursuing a low-carbon economy, priorities vary for countries at different stages of economic development.
Developing countries have different targets for carbon emission cuts and renewable energy development, because those countries are still in different stages of development, said Zhai Yongping, Principal Energy Specialist at the Southeast Asia Department of Asian Development Bank.
Climate change in the form of extreme weather such as drought and flood is just one of the many prominent challenges facing the developing world, in addition to the challenge of subsistence, such as hunger and malaria, and development, such as education and access to electricity, Zhai said.
Energy poverty is a reality in developing countries—half of the world's 1.5 billion people who have no access to electricity live in Asia.
"The 2015 targets for achieving the Millennium Development Goals are attainable largely because developing countries such as China and India have cut emissions much more than the targets they committed themselves to," Zhai said. "It's impossible for African countries located to the south of the Sahara Desert to fulfill these kinds of targets."
In China, where the economy is undergoing a growth model transformation, the top priority should be given to energy efficiency, said Du Xiangwan, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, while elaborating on China's green energy strategies at the sub-forum.
Du advocated energy saving be viewed as a form of low-carbon energy. "China has to follow an energy-efficient development model," he said. "Otherwise, even the world's total energy output cannot meet China's demand if its per-capita energy consumption increases to the U.S. level."
In addition to energy saving, clean and efficient utilization of fossil energy, and development of renewable energies and nuclear energy are two other focuses of China's low-carbon energy strategies in the first half of this century. At the same time, innovations in smart grid and energy storage technologies have to catch up to match the development of renewable energies, Du said.
"China will face its toughest challenges in the next two decades in order to transform its coal-heavy energy utilization structure into a balanced and diversified one," he said.
The low-carbon economy, as Du defines it, consists of low-carbon production, carbon sinks, low-carbon energies, and carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies. Carbon sink refers to a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon-containing chemical compounds for an indefinite period in forests, oceans and landfills.
"Energy efficiency improvement can happen in three major areas: buildings, industrial processes and transportation, which will significantly reduce the impacts of climate change," said Michael Kluse, Director of the U.S.-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Kluse named four priority areas for stabilizing carbon concentration: innovative approaches to emissions capture; a highly flexible electric grid; solutions to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings and infrastructure; and improving the technology transfer model to accelerate global-scale deployment of technologies.
"We realize no single research institution, organization, or country can do these things on its own," Kluse said.
While advancing smart grid development efforts with China's major research institutions and utilities, including the North China Gird and the South China Grid, the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is also assisting Chinese cities such as Chongqing and Nanning with training and implementing energy standards and codes.
Zhang Xiliang, Director of the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University, said technology innovations have contributed to China's recent achievements in slashing energy consumption by power plants, steelmakers and paper mills. But the energy utilization structure has yet to be improved, he said, hoping electricity increases in China will come more from renewable energies, clean coal, or nuclear energy.
While pursuing carbon emission reduction goal, China faces ballooning demand for fossil fuels from its rapid urbanization, industrialization and mechanization. Its annual consumption of gas and diesel will reach around 600 million tons by 2050, if the country fails to develop alternative fuel, Zhang said.
Innovations in improving fuel efficiency and development of hydrogen or electricity-powered vehicles will cut China's reliance on fossil oils to below 200 million tons by 2050, and greatly ease contradictions in oil supply and demand, Zhang said.
While elaborating on the efficient practices of coal-fired power plants in Japan to suppress carbon emissions, such as carbon separation, recovery and storage, Ken Okazaki, Director of the Inter-Department Organization for Environment and Energy at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, called for a fair and effective framework among all major countries for international technology transfer.
"Most important is what we should do or can do now," Okazaki said.
Japan currently looks for desirable cooperation models to share its strength in clean coal and smart grid technologies, but frameworks such as the Joint Implementation of carbon reduction goals between advanced countries, and Clean Development Mechanism between an advanced country and a developing country are still ineffective, Okazaki said.
"Energy saving or high efficiency is not enough, and net and quantitative contributions to carbon reduction are crucial to address global warming," Okazaki said.
Zhai proposed a multi-step South-South model of technology transfer between developing countries. Currently, low-carbon technologies are usually transferred by developed countries to developing countries regardless of their economic status, which Zhai called the North-South model.
But there are limits of the North-South model, Zhai said, including a lack of stakeholder mobilization and beneficiary participation, unsuitable management practices, lack of spare parts for operation and maintenance, high costs or tariffs on consumers, as well as limited know-how transfer.
Affordable renewable energies that suit local conditions are the focus of South-South technology transfers, and are meant to meet the basic needs and improve living standards of the local people, Zhai said. Under the model, know-how along with technologies will be transferred, low operational cost will be ensured and local manufacturing of certain equipment will be encouraged, he said.
Hironori Hamanaka, Chairman of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, named a few factors that have deterred investment interests in low-carbon technologies, including: limited collaborative research efforts and limited technology transfer; inconsistent, inadequate and unpredictable fund availability; high costs and capital intensity of renewable energy technologies; rigidity of intellectual property right protection; a lack of domestic incentives and enabling environment; and insufficient information exchanges.
"Technology-specific funding from developed countries is crucial to make low-carbon technology economically and politically feasible," Hamanaka said.
Wu Yin, Deputy Administrator of the National Energy Administration, encouraged developed countries to establish special funds for low-carbon technology transfer. While purchasing low-carbon technologies that are effective, economical, scalable and easy to deploy, they have to offer innovators suitable compensation and incentives such as tax rebates and recognition, Wu said.
With a technical assistance grant worth $1 million from Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility, Asian Development Bank has proposed a pilot program of renewable energy development to test the South-South model of technology transfer in the Greater Mekong Subregion. The project will cover five countries—Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam—and China's Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Asian Development Bank is inviting local companies to participate in the Greater Mekong Subregion pilot project. "It will specify a business model of public-private sector partnership and we welcome Chinese entrepreneurs to join us," Zhai said.