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Special> United Nations Climate Change Conference> Opinion
UPDATED: December 8, 2009 Web Exclusive
The Challenges of a Low-Carbon Economy
China would be pressured to make more efforts to make the transition, expert says

A low-carbon economy will not become China's new economic growth point in the decade to come despite its advantages, a senior expert said just days before the United Nations Climate Conference, which kicked off in Copenhagen on December 7.


Zou Ji, a professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Renmin University of China and China Country Director of the World Resources Institute (WRI), made the remarks in an exclusive interview with Beijing Review.

A low-carbon economy is an economic model based on reduced energy consumption, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It requires the use and development of highly efficient clean energy, innovation in energy and carbon-reduction technologies, and more importantly, a complete transformation of the public's views on survival and development.

Challenges ahead

Zou said different countries are in different situations. A low-carbon economy might become a new economic growth point for capitalist countries like Great Britain and the United States, but not for China right now, he said.

"Judging from the current situation, the traditional economic industries are sufficient and capable of supporting China's economic growth in the next 10 years," Zou said.

The reason, according to Zou, lies in the technology system. The gap between China and developed countries in terms of technology has been narrowing, as the country learns from and adapts the achievements of the Western industrial revolution in recent decades.

"It would be nothing short of abandoning decades-long efforts and starting over again if China introduced a low-carbon economy right now," Zou warned.

"Unlike the EU, the United States or Japan, which have potential and advantages in developing low-carbon economies because of their powerful technology, China is obviously not at the same level," he continued.

China is rich in coal resources. Currently, high-carbon coal consumption accounts for about 70 percent of the country's total energy consumption. In addition, infrastructure construction in the country is in full swing, as road construction in rural areas and track and transportation projects in large and medium-sized cities are well under way.

High energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are the price of these projects, which developed countries paid for and finished decades ago.

Zou said the shortage of funds and technologies for developing renewable and new energy is another challenge for China. Moreover, an energy shift could cause social disruptions, for instance, the relocation of staff if high-energy consumption companies were forced to shut down.

"The low-carbon concept in China has yet to become popular, and most people are not psychologically ready for the transition," Zou said.

Technology transfer is the key

Zou believes that the key to a successful and direct transition into the low-carbon economy era for China is to establish supportive and favorable market and policy systems.

"There is a need for international cooperation on core technologies in energy-saving and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Technology transfer from developed countries will probably be widely applied in China in the next 20 years," Zou said. "Otherwise, it will take more time so as to delay the process of controlling and reducing emissions in China.

"That's why one of China's demands at the United Nations Climate Conference will be full cooperation and substantive action on technology development and transfer from the developed countries," he continued.

"Climate change is more than an environmental issue. With this in mind, China needs to reconsider national technology strategy, national economic development strategy, international relations strategy and so forth," he added.

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