Aspiring to Live in a Low-Carbon World

Point of View by Peter Marsters, China Environment Forum, Centerpoint, Summer 2010

Jul 13, 2010

In the last year, China has simultaneously become the world's largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) while also becoming the world's largest investor in low-carbon energy. The country is in the unfortunate position of having to manage staggering levels of development, urbanization, and increasing demand for energy all the while being highly susceptible to sea-level rise, desertification, and water shortages brought about by climate change. The Chinese government must figure out how to address carbon emissions without compromising growth.

This dilemma is confronting many nations, and is particularly acute in the United States and China—two economic giants that contribute significantly to GHG emissions. Job and economic growth have become the lynchpins in any proposed climate mitigation and political actions.
The United States and China have had decades of experience in producing and consuming fossil fuels and the up-front costs for using coal and oil have become remarkably inexpensive. However, the external costs that come with the use of fossil fuels, namely those for human health and global climate, increase the overall cost to an unaffordable level.

GHG emissions need to be reduced, and the world will need to figure out how to move to low-carbon power sources. This transition will not be cheap in the short-run, and any transition will require significant investment of both time and money. The key to addressing economic growth, jobs, and climate change will be to lower the cost of implementing carbon mitigation actions.

U.S.-China cooperation will greatly assist in lowering the cost of implementing energy efficiency measures and low-carbon power development, the two most potent solutions to mitigating carbon emissions. With its command and control political system, China has the ability to implement rapid policy and infrastructure changes, lessons upon which the United States can draw heavily, particularly in on-the-ground experiential knowledge. China, for its part, can draw upon U.S. dominance in research and development. The combination of U.S. and Chinese comparative advantages will make carbon mitigation actions come about faster, and at lower cost, for both countries.

The United States and China should focus cooperation on increased mutual R&D, business-to-business interaction, and sharing of best practices for low-carbon energy development. To advance energy efficiency, increased NGO and government interaction are essential. A transformation to a low-carbon world will not be cheap or easy, but the costs of such a transformation can be lowered through U.S.-China cooperation.



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