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 Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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