Li Xing

Time is of the essence at Cancun

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-10 07:00
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Alejandro Garcia and many of his friends work as volunteers at the Moon Palace, the main venue for the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference.

"I don't know how much progress they're making," Garcia, a 22-year-old student at Anahuac University in Cancun, admitted.

"But I know the conference is good for the people of the world. It will keep the planet healthy and livable for our children," he said.

With all the contradictions and conflict inherent in the negotiations, Garcia's confidence is heartening.

Each of us - officials, activists, and journalists - left a substantial carbon footprint just to get here. According to the host's website, I will have created 14.51 tons of carbon dioxide traveling to Cancun from Beijing and riding buses every day between my hotel and the conference venues.

All of us are working to rally the political will of more than 190 countries to ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren.

Climate change is real and time is of the essence. Nations must not wait until the negotiators hammer out the legal documents to take action.

China is not waiting. It is quickening its steps to cut fossil fuel consumption, plant more trees, and above all reduce the intensity of carbon emissions per unit of its GDP, as Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, has repeatedly explained.

Xie has also said that China is considering putting climate legislation in its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), in addition to measures promoting energy conservation, renewable energy, and environmental protection.

In November, six Chinese government agencies announced that they were finalizing a set of national energy efficiency regulations.

Under the new rules, power companies must use at least 0.3 percent of their electricity revenues to develop programs to help factories, businesses, and households invest in energy efficiency. The companies will also be asked to save energy, with binding targets set at 0.3 percent of the previous year's maximum load.

According to calculations by the US National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a 0.3 reduction in power usage a year "would roughly translate to 11 billion kilo watts per hour (kWh) - enough electricity to supply 1 million average US households (or 10 million Chinese homes) for a year".

Chinese businesses are not waiting. In Cancun, their representatives have demonstrated a series of endeavors to develop low-carbon construction, green transportation, and other energy savings.

Chinese NGOs and international organizations working in China are not waiting.

The Beijing-based Shanshui Conservation Center, headed by Lu Zhi, has been piloting a "panda carbon storage" program in Southwest China. Under the program, Lu and her colleagues work with people in the mountainous communities to restore and manage forests with credits they've obtained from the international carbon markets.

"We make sure that local communities are masters of these forests and benefit from reforestation," Lu said.

The NRDC has worked with Jiangsu province to limit the increase in its electricity generation over the past three years. By saving 3.5 billion kWh a year, the province expects to reduce its CO2 emissions by about 3.4 million tons.

Meanwhile, The Climate Group is working in Chinese cities to blaze a trail for low-carbon development.

It is tough to give up the road of high energy and resource consumption, yet we must change gears.

"We can no longer afford to rely on excessive fossil fuel and intense energy consumption to drive our development," Xie said.

Although China is still a developing country, it will contribute its share to slowing down global warming and reducing the effects of climate change.

We must take seriously the new data scientists have shared with us here in Cancun. The World Meteorology Organization reported that 2010 has been among the three warmest years since 1850.

Meanwhile, glaciers from the Himalayas to Alaska to the southernmost portion of South America are receding, and the amount of ice available to reflect sunshine and keep our earth cool is shrinking, according to a report by United Nations Environment Program.

The extreme weather around the world will only get worse, climate experts warn, if we don't begin drastic coordinated global actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut our reliance on fossil fuels.

We must stop dragging our feet.

The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily. She can be reached at