Quantcast

Creating Sustainable Strategies to Address China's Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate

As greenhouse gas emissions are slowly reduced in Europe and the U.S., total global emissions are still rising, due in large part to the fast-growing economies of India and China. The U.S. Energy Information Agency reports that half of the world's increase in energy consumption by 2040 will be attributed to China and India, "as they use energy to fuel their economic growth."

Tiananmen tower enveloped by the heavy fog and haze. Many China's cities face serious air pollution and poor air quality. Photo credit:
axz700 / Shutterstock.com

While Chinese investment in solar power recently hit an all-time high, China is still relying heavily on coal and other fossil fuels to meet its increasing economic and energy demands. According to Justin Gillis of the New York Times:

“China is spending heavily on renewable and nuclear energy as it tries to slow the growth of coal, but despite those efforts it has become by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Its emissions of 10 billion tons a year of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and cement manufacturing are almost twice those of the United States, though emissions per person are still far higher in the United States."

Of course, climate change is not the only global sustainability problem, but it is an important and prominent one. Reducing emissions and promoting global environmental sustainability is a shared responsibility for all countries, but China's contribution is particularly important. China recognizes their key role. At the United Nations Climate Summit last month, the Chinese Vice Premier announced China's intention to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible, building on previously-announced commitments to set a cap on carbon. However, although the Chinese government has worked to establish a sustainable strategy for its development, the sheer pace of China's economic growth makes it a difficult task.

It is important for China and in fact all of the planet's economic development, that we incorporate a more holistic understanding of environmental sustainability—including, but not limited to, greenhouse gas emissions—as we make the transition to a sustainable, renewable economy. For this to happen, we need a rigorous, valid and standardized system to measure and manage sustainability. We need a generally accepted set of sustainability metrics if we are to seriously assess the progress we are making during the transition to a sustainable economy.

Next week, I'll be traveling to Beijing to formalize a partnership between Columbia University's Earth Institute and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), a leading think tank focused on promoting international economic research and exchanges in various fields. One of our research groups at the Earth Institute, the Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management, will be conducting joint research with the Center to design a sustainability measurement and metrics system based on China's unique economic development path.

The broader importance of this work lies in the need for a standardized methodology to organize the vastly increasing amount of sustainability performance measures—in a way that enhances organizational and local level management and improves sustainability performance. The partnership with CCIEE will produce applied research that can contribute to both U.S. and Chinese decision-making in sustainability policy. This, in turn, could facilitate the development of renewable resource-based economies in China, the U.S. and around the world.

While in Beijing, I'll also be visiting the Columbia Global Centers | East Asia, an important partner for the Earth Institute as we expand our research into China, where I'll be giving a talk on “Environmental Policy and the Business of Sustainability." I'll be discussing the importance of environmental policy in achieving a sustainable society and the need to manage short-term costs for long-term gains. I'll trace the environmental movement over the past century, exploring how the environment emerged as a public policy issue and how current environmental policy reflects our values as society. I'll also discuss how environmental regulation influences the economy and demonstrate how the path to a clean economy requires public policy that stimulates changes in the economic behaviors of businesses, governments and individuals.

As China advances their sustainability efforts and aims to achieve a growing economy along with a cleaner environment, it's important that they look at how other countries have overcome similar obstacles. I have worked on U.S. environmental issues since 1975, and have a keen appreciation of the mistakes we made here in the U.S. as we moved to decouple the growth of pollution from the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). Before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, U.S. pollution was growing at a rate similar to the rate of economic growth. By the time EPA was a decade old, the absolute levels of pollution had dropped, while the GDP continued to grow. With few exceptions, that trend has continued ever since. My hope is that some of what we learned here in the U.S. through trial and error I can share with my colleagues in China and help them avoid making some of the mistakes we made.

Ultimately, it will be important for the U.S. to increase its efforts on sustainability and decrease carbon emissions, but it's necessary for China to quickly step up their efforts as well. While China faces many challenges, I look forward to the Earth Institute playing a small part in efforts to advance China's sustainability strategy with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

'All Hands on Deck' Declares Ban Ki-moon at UN Climate Summit

Capitalism vs. The Climate: Stephen Colbert Talks To Naomi Klein

People's Consumptive Demands Undermine Planet's Life-Support Systems

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.

Read More Show Less

gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images

By Nicole Greenfield

Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.

"The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it's helped our industry—and it's been a big boost for the Maine economy," Porter, the current president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said. "But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way."

The Gulf of Maine is setting frequent temperature records and warming faster overall than 99 percent of the world's oceans, due in large part to climate change. Meanwhile, its lobster population skyrocketed by 515 percent between 1984 and 2014. In 1990, for example, lobster landings in Maine totaled 28 million pounds. Ten years later that figure was up to 57 million pounds. And in every year since 2011, the take has exceeded 100 million pounds, peaking at 132.6 million pounds in 2016 and turning lobster into a half-billion-dollar industry for the state.

Fishermen like Porter have been reaping the benefits of the boom, but he's right — as the Gulf of Maine's waters inevitably continue to warm, lobster populations will almost certainly decrease. The crustaceans thrive at temperatures between 61 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water hits 70 degrees, its oxygen levels plummet, to the detriment of a host of marine plants and animals, lobsters included. According to a 2018 study, the gulf's lobster population could fall by 40 to 62 percent over the next 30 years, returning the industry — the nation's most valuable fishery — to early-2000s numbers.

"Temperature is a big part of the story here," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and a coauthor of the study. "Lobster is likely to decline, and that's obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming."

Maine lobsters are normally brown, but about one in every two million is blue.

Richard Wood / Flickr

Marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute notes that rising temperatures have also contributed to a decline in other fisheries like shrimp, cod and scallops, leaving fishermen in Maine precariously dependent on the thriving lobster populations. "A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we're seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried," she said. In response, Arnold and her colleagues are encouraging fishermen to think about diversification opportunities like aquaculture. "We're trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem."

State lawmakers, too, are taking note of the warming trend and rising up in support of climate action. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited concerns about climate change impacting the lobster industry in her February announcement that the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. She has also linked the recent creation of a Maine Climate Council and ambitious statewide renewable energy goals to the health of local fisheries. (Mills recently signed several climate bills into law that will help the state transition to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)

Such a head-on response to the impacts of climate change facing Maine offers a much-needed boost to the future of both lobsters and the coastal communities that rely on the fishery. Meanwhile, the iconic sea creatures have already benefited from generations of conservation efforts, as noted by Pershing and his fellow researchers. In addition to heeding minimum and maximum catch size limits, fishers must refrain from taking any egg-bearing female lobsters. Instead, when they catch these breeders, they clip their tails with a "V notch,"—a mark that will stay with a lobster through several molts—then release them. (The clipped tail signals to other fisherman who may encounter the same lobsters that they are off-limits.)

Porter and other fisherman liken this investment in the future of the industry to putting money in the bank. And marine scientists, including NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, call it smart climate policy. "Leaving these large, fecund females in the water is a really good idea in the context of a rapidly changing environment," Suatoni said. "It isn't just fixated on how to get maximum sustainable yield but also expanding our objective to also get increased ecological or evolutionary resilience."

The decline of the lobster industry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where waters are warmer and regulations less stringent than in Maine, serves as a cautionary tale for their northern neighbor. Landings in southern New England shrank by as much as 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, but the industry has resisted many conservation measures, and again rejected fishing restrictions brought to the table by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017.

The proposed restrictions would have changed the legal harvesting size and reduced the number of traps allowed per fisherman, among other regulation changes. Had Maine followed the same lax approach, Pershing and his colleagues estimate that lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine would have increased by less than half as much as it did during their 30-year study period.

While Pershing praises Maine's forward-looking approach for boosting the resilience of its lobster industry in the face of the growing climate crisis, "there's a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it," he said. "When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it's a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models."

Pershing says that climate change is having impacts up and down the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. For example, a sharp decline in a species of tiny copepod — a shrimp-like creature that is a favorite food of herring, seabirds and endangered right whales — is putting further stress on these creatures.

"These aren't just faraway changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them," Pershing said. "There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast."

Nicole Greenfield is a writer at NRDC whose articles on religion, the environment, popular culture and social justice have appeared in many publications.

Sponsored
TeamDAF / Getty Images Plus

The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
The Eqip Sermia Glacier is seen behind a moraine left exposed by the glacier's retreat during unseasonably warm weather on Aug. 1 at Eqip Sermia, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Andrew Yang's assertion that people move away from the coast at the last Democratic debate is the completely rational and correct choice for NASA scientists in Greenland.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
hadynyah / E+ / Getty Images

By Johnny Wood

The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.

The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.

Here are some of the challenges the river faces.

Read More Show Less

Protesters gathered outside US Bank and Wells Fargo locations around the U.S. to protest investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline on Dec. 1, 2016. This photo is from a protest outside US Bank in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

DESIREE MARTIN / AFP / Getty Images

Wildfires raging on Gran Canaria, the second most populous of Spain's Canary Islands, have forced around 9,000 people to evacuate.

Read More Show Less