Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category


A new Chinese policy imposes the purchase of all electricity from renewable sources. This stands among China’s most influential decisions relating to the environment in recent years.

Harsh criticisms on their environmental policy only drives China’s Government to consider emissions reductions. A strained reliance on coal and mammoth economic incentives, however, compels this type of expansive, progressive legislation. China’s coal consumption continues to grow while production plateaus. Still, it remains the cheapest energy source.

What China’s Government did was simple. They increased demand of renewable energy to 100 percent. Supply must then increase. They improve their environmental impact and require their renewable energy sector to expand. Alongside government subsidies on renewable energy, this is the only way to challenge coal’s price. It is obviously not perfect. Quality remains a concern. With this incredible incentive to produce renewable energy, the sector could grow too fast and produce poor products.

While the US can brag about freedom and democracy, our government could never pass this level of monumental legislation. In China, it happens quickly and impacts every region.

The ideal for Americans is that our innovation triumphs. Ideas that are designed and copyrighted in the US can be produced overseas in China at a cheaper cost. Win-win. Unfortunately, stagnant governmental efforts on clean energy delay the US’s capabilities. Furthermore, it fails to inspire job growth in this country. We must accept and utilize China’s capacity, and work with them instead of treating them like our rival.


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An emissions target based on 1990 levels is an emissions target based on 2005 levels is a reduction of carbon intensity. This alternative title better represents present reduction commitments from the EU, the US, and China.

All three have accepted carbon reductions. In particular, the US and China’s promises signify further symbolic progress. During Kyoto Protocol discussions, these pledges would have been astounding. Over a decade later, they inspire sentiments of “it’s about time” as well as some optimism.

It is important to understand how these targets differ. Bashing the EU’s reduction pledges of 95% by 2050 and 30% by 2020 appears inappropriate, especially since these cuts are based on 1990 emissions levels. Nevertheless, 1990 is a convenient choice. Post-1990 Europe was influenced by declining Soviet economies. This collapse decreased European emissions, a decline that counts towards their reduction target. Their 30% target thus becomes a 20% cut.

The US appeared inaccurately dedicated by pledging a 17% reduction target by 2020 on a 2005 emissions baseline. Politics shaped this decision. It satisfies environmentalists’ demands for a firm commitment as well as industrial powers in how they will not deal with major changes. A 17% commitment on a 2005 emissions baseline equals a 4-6% decrease on a 1990 baseline. Although it might be too little too late, President Obama’s pledge contains more constructive reductions in the decades to come: 30% in 2025, 42% in 2030 and 83% in 2050.

China’s target of a 40-45% reduction of “the carbon intensity of the economy” by 2020 sounds impressive. Unfortunately, this aligns with their current path. This will only become difficult if their GDP does not proceed as predicted. Michael A Levi, Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, explains,

“Emissions and GDP projections in the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2009 International Energy Outlook (IEO), published in May 2009, translate to a 46 percent Chinese emissions-intensity cut from 2005 to 2020. Similar projections in the International Energy Agency (IEA) 2009 World Energy Outlook (WEO), published in November 2009, are equivalent to a 40 percent Chinese emissions- intensity cut over the same period.”

Carbon intensity means the carbon emitted per yuan. By 2020, China’s commitment translates to a 0-12% reduction of their current emissions path or a 40% increase of present CO2 emission. It signifies more environmentally conscious technology developments, which is already high on China’s agenda. Refusing binding emission decreases because their pollution is comparatively new seems fair, but not in the face of future climate change’s grave effects. China must make actual cuts.
(Click here for more information of China’s emission reduction proposal)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report warns that developing countries need 10-40% reductions below 1990 levels by 2020 and 40-95% reductions by 2050 “for low to medium stabilization.” Seeing as the EU claims to lead the way, their short-term target falls short of adequate. US and China’s targets consequently denote a failure. US emissions levels stand among the world’s highest. A 4-6% reduction on a 1990 baseline spoils global efforts. It also deviates from the G8 leaders’ recent goals. Since China’s economy and emissions arguably necessitate their reassignment as a developed country, their 0-12% reduction of 2009 emissions levels amplifies this hindrance. Continuing this emissions level will lead to at least a 2°C increase in surface temperature, as well as increasingly grave changes in our climate.

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News of a U.S.–China plan for cooperation on environmental policy was exciting. It sets a constructive stage for actual progress down the road. Along side a mutual assertion for collective binding emissions targets, this may raise participation as well as reduction commitments for a new international climate protocol. While meaningfully symbolic, this alliance remains ideological for now. A thorough read clarifies the plan as a pact to work on making an agreement. More concrete progress grew out of a related U.S.-China collaboration to establish a greenhouse gas inventory system for China.

Objections to the U.S. accepting a binding emissions target commonly reference the uncertainty accompanying measurements of other country’s reductions. How can we tell data is not fabricated? Verifying the accuracy of these reports remains difficult.

A vast landscape and an expanding collection of coal mines complicate China’s ability to document emissions. Regardless, attempting to collect these figures is crucial. The Memorandum of Cooperation between the EPA and China’s National Development and Reform Commissions calls for, among other things, the development of a Chinese registry. Many countries already have these systems. Since 1990, the EPA has maintained a U.S. greenhouse gas inventory. The International Transaction Log, established by the UNFCCC to support the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon trading mechanisms, validates international projects and transactions. China’s inclusion in this group of registries suggests future participation these global dealings—activities that require acceptance of a binding emissions target.

The U.S. and China combine to contribute roughly 40% of global emissions. Legitimate reductions require this starting point, a uniform gauge of greenhouse gasses. To effectively modify their approach to the environment, these two world powers need to be on the same page.

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Take a Closer Look


These pieces mimic traditional Chinese scrolls with a modern twist: every element of nature appears replaced by products of development. They were displayed on the Shanghai People’s Square metro station‘s advertisement screens, and were generated for the China Environmental Protection Foundation.

China Environmental Protection Foundation Website


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Yesterday’s U.S.-China plan for cooperation on clean energy and climate change signified progress towards improving the global environmental agenda. Both countries outlined joint ideological measures to achieve a more stable environment, and hope to accept emissions reduction targets. Reviewing either country’s previous stance on binding targets, this change appears to be ideal, yet oddly radical. At the same time, this agreement was not the most romanticized objective. Components to the plan, like the “Electric Vehicles Initiative,” seemingly extended idealistic aspirations to ground binding reductions as feasible.

Just one day earlier, world leaders decided to abandon achieving comprehensive international climate change legislation in Copenhagen next month. Presidents Hu Jintao and Barack Obama fueled this verdict.  World leaders looked to U.S.–China negotiations to indicate outcomes of the Copenhagen Convention. I will consequently continue to cling tight to my optimism that this new dynamic duo of superpowers will lead a crusade against activities contributing to global warming. Solar and wind power sectors have emerged in both nations, but decreasing emissions necessitates a more diverse approach. Despite a mix of overzealous support and pessimism masquerading as “being realistic,” algae–based technologies will surface as a crucial tool to achieve this evolving agenda.

Algae represent third generation biofuels as well as a carbon sequestration mechanism. It feeds off of carbon. With enough absorption, oil can be extracted from the green sludge. Residual substances are then used for fertilizer or animal feed. The most compelling aspect of this process is the rapid speed at which it occurs.

Over a year ago, an Oregon coal fired power plant began its pilot program to utilize algae to not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also to generate fuel. Development of similar projects has begun in the U.S. as well as many other countries. Considerable investments from Bill Gates and more recently Exxon Mobil Corp suggest a bright future for algae technologies.

China has already jumped on this train. While their environmental progress in the energy sector remains understated, coal’s cheap price lingers as a formidable barrier. Algae biodiesel currently costs substantially more than other forms of fuel. The hope is that research will discover the algae species that optimizes fuel production. With a fast growth rate, algae technology will become especially inexpensive over time.

Despite some false headlines last year, major Chinese firms are now pursuing this agenda. ENN, an energy pioneer in China, continues to thoroughly explore different algae species to determine how each absorbs carbon. Easing coal combustion emissions stands as the objective since a widespread transition away from coal usage is not economically feasible. Fuel production is the subsequent step, but cutting back China’s release of carbon into the atmosphere would have major implications for their projected carbon emissions. The immense amount of current research and preliminary models like PetroSun’s U.S. biofuel plant make the future of algae usage rather optimistic.

The goal is widespread use of technology, like algae-fueled vehicles. Right now, research is the top priority. Hopefully, the alleged joint efforts for the “U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center” in yesterday’s agreement will compel new finding on algae. While they are not alone in this exploration of algae, China’s energy policy evolves out of necessity. They thrive when objectives are clear. Constructive reductions to their emissions rates will require algae technology. Advantages to this development are two-fold: reduce carbon emissions and provide fuel. Solar and wind power are presently more economically viable, but Algae will be the next sector that China will likely lead.

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