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Low Carbon Development to Alleviate Climate Change

The quality of mass transit and the types of industries present in a city have a great impact on emissions. Photo by gefafwisp.

The World Resources Institute, along with the National Development and Reform Commission of China hosted the Low Carbon Development Workshop yesterday. The workshop is part of WRI’s recent launch of a five-year $12.5 million project to advance the progress of environmentally sustainable and livable cities in China, India and Brazil. The funding for the program comes from the Caterpillar Foundation. The workshop was also an opportunity to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between WRI, NDRC and the Caterpillar Foundation.

To kick-off the project, WRI organized a five-city US study tour for a delegation of high-level Chinese government officials from January 7-12. The delegation is led by Director General Su Wei from NDRC, the main planning agency for the Chinese government. Director General Su Wei is China’s chief negotiator on climate change, as well as one of the key decision-makers for low-carbon development initiatives in China. The delegation also includes officials from four Chinese provinces and cities who are directly involved in the policy-making and implementation of low-carbon urban development.

One of the objectives of the workshop is to encourage a dialogue among Chinese, U.S. and international policymakers and researchers to exchange ideas on developing low-carbon city models. The workshop and the project also aim to highlight innovative approaches to one of the world’s biggest environmental and sustainability issues—urbanization. And finally, both initiatives work to advance sustainable urbanization and create urban centers that ensure more sustainable and livable conditions for all inhabitants.

Clayton Lane, Chief Operating Officer of EMBARQ and the Global Lead behind WRI’s Sustainable Cities Initiative participated in the opening remarks by discussing the efficiency of living smaller and closer together. Lane cited carbon emission data from Toronto’s suburbs, city limits and inner city to show that compact cities in the developed world have lower carbon emissions and better quality of life indicators. Of course the availability, accessibility and quality of mass transit, as well as the kinds of industries located in the city have a great impact on carbon emissions, Lane added. A child born today in New York has a longer life expectancy than most of its peers around the world, Lane explained, adding that compact cities also have an impact on decreasing the severity and the amount of road fatalities due to speed restrictions and the available alternatives to private vehicles.

Lane also spoke about road fatalities and how they will soon become the fifth cause of death in the world, surpassing AIDS, tuberculosis and lung cancer, which is why WRI’s Sustainable Cities Initiative is an important and critical step in improving living conditions around the world. In a partnership with five cities around the world, in five years, WRI hopes to affect the lives of 35 million inhabitants by focusing on solutions to issues of energy, water and of course, transportation. This will be an opportunity to design the blueprints of cities, Lane explained, planning how cities should be designed and how these designs can be scaled up to meet greater demands.

DG Su Wei continued the workshop’s introduction with his Keynote Speech on China’s reflections on the Durban climate negotiations and the country’s efforts in minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the effects of a warming planet. Wei acknowledged that although the world could not accomplish UNFCCC’s mandate on climate change, the Durban talks were a modest step in the right direction. He spoke on China’s national climate policy and its widening guidance for the future of the country. Wei spoke about the three sections in China’s efforts to designing climate change policy—mitigation, adaptation and international cooperation—and how the nation is placing an emphasis on fresh water, agriculture, coastal area development and forestry to help alleviate some of the struggles that may arise from climate change. Wei also acknowledged the complexity and sensitivity surrounding international climate change policy and said, “We are not just talking, but also acting. We are serious about what we’re talking about and we mean what we said.”

Perspectives on Sustainable Development

Following the introduction and the signing of the MOU, panelists gathered to discuss various perspectives on low-carbon development. Janet Ranganathan, Vice President for Science and Research at WRI moderated the panel.

Zou Ji, WRI China Country Director, and Zhenjun Li, Director for the Energy Conservation Office at the Qingdao Municipal Government, presented on China’s perspective on low-carbon developments. Ji spoke about China’s challenges in meeting the necessary mandates. He said that although China is growing to become a middle-income economy and is now considered an emerging economy, the nation is still very much in its development stage. With 50 percent of the population still living in rural areas, China is still experiencing industrialization and urbanization, Ji explained. This means consumption and emissions, he added. China’s growth relies on resources, at the same time, the country is growing more stringent on energy and natural resources, Ji explained. Further complicating matters is the diversity of development, Ji added. The east, west and middle of the nation are all developing at various paces and this requires careful design, he explained.

Jennifer Morgan succeeded China’s perspective with an international one on low-carbon development. She explained that investment in clean energy has been growing rapidly but that the real question is whether investment in renewable energy in 2012 will surpass fossil fuel investment in 2012, which Manish Bapna wrote about in WRI Insights just this Tuesday. Morgan gave the example of Germany and their efforts in closing seven nuclear plants and phasing in renewable energy sources. Morgan also spoke on U.S. climate policy and the failure of legislation. But despite the lack of legislation, the administration still has executive authority to regulate, Morgan explained, giving examples of recent improvements to regulations like the Clean Air Act and CAFE Standards. Morgan finalized by explaining that a mix of policies and measures would be the most effective in tackling greenhouse gas emissions. She also explained that a mandatory scheme, rather than a voluntary one, works best in placing clear signals and penalties for emissions.

Finally Holger Dalkmann, Director at EMBARQ, spoke to the perspective of low-carbon developments from a transportation angle. Dalkmann explained that China is becoming the largest car producer in the world, adding 2100 cars to the streets of Beijing everyday and producing 13 million automobiles in 2009. To wrap up the panel, Dalkmann relayed the paradigm shift concept he mentioned in an earlier post. He spoke about the avoid-shift-improve strategy: avoiding travel and reducing length of trips, shifting to more sustainable modes of transport; and improving fuel and vehicle efficiency.

Read more about the details of the event.

What do you think about implementing low-carbon development? What do you think are the challenges?

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