China, the top emitter of greenhouse gases, is also the country that’s “doing it right” when it comes to addressing global warming, the United Nations’ chief climate official said.
The nation has some of the toughest energy-efficiency standards for buildings and transportation and its support for photovoltaic technology helped reduce solar-panel costs by 80 percent since 2008, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg News headquarters in New York.
The country is facing growing public pressure from citizens to reduce air pollution, due in large part to burning coal. Its efforts to promote energy efficiency and renewable power stem from the realization that doing so will pay off in the long term, Figueres said.
“They actually want to breathe air that they don’t have to look at,” she said. “They’re not doing this because they want to save the planet. They’re doing it because it’s in their national interest.”
China is also able to implement policies because its political system avoids some of the legislative hurdles seen in countries including the U.S., Figueres said.
Key policies, reforms and appointments are decided at plenums, or meeting of the governing Communist Party’s more than 200-strong Central Committee. The National People’s Congress, China’s unicameral legislature, largely enforces decisions made by the party and other executive organs.
The political divide in the U.S. Congress has slowed efforts to pass climate legislation and is “very detrimental” to the fight against global warming, she said.
Figueres, 57, is responsible for guiding more than 190 member-states in a UN-led initiative to draft an international treaty to fight global warming. The goal is to sign in 2015 a treaty that will take effect in 2020, replacing the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997.
Kyoto, the only international treaty on emissions restrictions, limits greenhouse pollutants in industrialized nations and leaves poorer countries to make voluntary commitments. Canada pulled out of the treaty in 2011 and Russia and Japan have rejected new targets after 2012. The U.S. never ratified it. The treaty has applied to less than 15 percent of global emissions.
Figueres expects a draft version of the 2015 treaty to be discussed at talks in Lima, Peru, in December. Crafting a deal will be facilitated by other countries realizing, like China, that curbing climate change will have long-term benefits that offset short-term costs, she said.
Climate goals should “feed the national interest,” Figueres said, as opposed to “committing to something that is against your interest.”
Some details, including accountability and compliance, are still to be worked out. It may include different levels of contribution for countries, based on what each nation reports it will be able to deliver.
Envoys at the last UN climate talks in Warsaw in November agreed that nations would sign up for “contributions” to roll back fossil-fuel emissions, instead of making “commitments.”
In the U.S., the divided Congress is politicizing climate change and slowing down efforts to pass legislation, Figueres said.
President Barack Obama’s administration is expected to finalize this year new limits on power-plant emissions, a move that may help meet a pledge to reduce greenhouse gases 17 percent by 2020,
It’s unclear whether the power-plant rules and other efforts by Obama to address climate change will translate into a more ambitious pledge for the post-2020 period.
Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, told reporters at the Warsaw talks that U.S. agencies are already working to develop the new pledge. The U.S. plans to offer it in the first quarter of 2015, ahead of the December 2015 climate conference in Paris.