5 Things to Know as China Launches the World’s Largest Carbon Market
By Diane Regas
China has announced the launch of a national emissions trading system that will become the world's largest and most consequential environmental program, fulfilling a commitment of President Xi Jinping and setting up China to meet or even exceed its commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
The nation is moving deliberately, gradually phasing in and ramping up this carbon market, a proven way to limit and reduce climate pollution. It's expected to eventually be 10 times larger than the successful emissions trading system in California, which took more than six years to develop and launch.
China is stepping into a leadership void after the Trump administration decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. There is still much to be done in the coming months to ensure China's program succeeds, including synchronizing it with other needed policies. But if it does, it could position the country of 1.4 billion to exceed its goals—and bring the rest of the world along.
When the first phase of the system is fully implemented, it's expected to cover 3.5 billion metric tons of carbon pollution from more than 1,700 companies in the power sector. That is roughly 39 percent of China's total emissions, making it the largest carbon market in the world.
Here are five things you should know about China's market, and why it's such a huge deal for our climate.
1. China is Motivated
China's current Five-Year Plan, which guides the country's economic and social development between 2016 and 2020, specifically calls for this carbon market. It also sets new targets for carbon and energy intensity for the economy—as well as the first-ever targets for total energy consumption.
By planning for moderate economic growth and by shifting the economy away from heavy industry—while at the same time capping greenhouse gases—China may, in fact, be able to peak emissions well ahead of its 2030 goal if it continues to ramp up these efforts.
The country is also motivated by a crippling air pollution problem. In addition to cutting climate pollution, the carbon trading system will reduce particulate matter and other pollutants that contribute to 1.6 million deaths annually.
2. China is Learning From Earlier Markets Abroad
With several large carbon markets already up and running in other countries, China is taking good notes. The nation's leaders understand that safeguards designed to protect market integrity must be in place for the market to perform, something Europe's now-successful market had to learn the hard way.
It must be functional, transparent, efficient and subject to strict oversight. But China also still needs to nail down a host of specific program design elements.
A partial list of the most pressing questions include the geographic scope of the market, which sectors will be covered, how the allocations will be made, the nature of the monitoring and verification system, the role of offsets and the nature of the enforcement mechanisms.
In our effort to support the Chinese government, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) will continue to offer practical recommendations on how China can harvest the lessons, seize opportunities and overcome challenges associated with the new market—all while slowing energy demand and accelerating the transition to cleaner energy sources.
We bring insights from our decades of work helping to design, implement and evaluate emissions trading systems in the U.S. and the European Union—as well as from our 25-plus years on the ground in China.
By taking advantage of best practices, China will have a leg up as it designs its own, unique market.
3. China's Pilot Markets Gave Nation a Jumpstart
China's seven carbon trading pilots, which EDF continues to assist, are in full operation. These markets are already capping more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide in areas covering 250 million people.
Pilot participants have been learning from each other's experiences in anticipation of the national roll-out. The pilots' experiences will help inform the development of an innovative and efficient national system, for example when it comes to guiding government intervention to manage price volatility.
4. China Understands That Enforcement is Key
Strengthening enforcement and transparency is critical for building confidence in the market and in the country's ambitious climate goals. That's why EDF has helped train more than 39,000 Chinese environmental enforcement officers in recent years.
We have mounted an accelerated effort on the ground in China. Our mission: to provide technical assistance, analysis, training and support to those who will build, administer and manage the new carbon market.
We are also working with the Chinese government to improve the regulatory enforceability of market regulations
5. China Will Hold Polluters Accountable
An effective trading system offers enterprises flexibility on how to comply. It also makes it abundantly clear that violations will result in penalties that make non-compliance cost-prohibitive.
When these signals are clear, financial and environmental objectives come into alignment—prompting industry to minimize fines, invest in reduction measures and monetize green investments.
Our China team is working with Chinese partners to evaluate the effectiveness of penalties under the nation's new environmental law and translate those lessons to the new carbon market.
Notwithstanding the work that remains to be done, we are confident this new mechanism can reduce emissions from the world's most populous nation, delivering on and surpassing its commitments under the Paris climate accord.
China is showing positive action—and the rest of the world is watching.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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