Climate change. China looks to balance its carbon books.


886 C R E D IT S ( T O P T O B O T T O M ): S T E P H E N S H A V E R /U P I/ N E W S C O M ; C . L A R S O N BEIJING—Like other members of China’s delegation to the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, geophysicist Ding Zhongli returned home with fi re in his heart. The talks, dogged by controversy, failed to fi nd a solution to how to equitably rein in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Some observers laid the blame on rising powers like China, Brazil, and India, which rejected binding reductions. Ding and his compatriots chafed at what they saw as an injustice. “Before 1990, developed countries emitted so much CO2. They should do something about it,” Ding says. “We need to allocate emission rights in a fair way.” An equitable solution is proving elusive, and with the Kyoto Protocol set to expire in 2012, time is running out. As nations grope for a consensus, China is pressing ahead on its own to sharply reduce energy intensity by shuttering ineffi cient coal-fi red power plants and capping energy use (Science, 8 February 2008, p. 730). Last week, the State Council approved a plan to promote low-carbon energy and slash CO2 emissions by 17% per unit of GDP by 2015. But these efforts mask major uncertainties in China’s carbon balance sheet: just how much CO2 the country emits and how much its landscape absorbs. Ding, a vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is leading an ambitious new program that aims to answer these questions. In a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao on the heels of the Copenhagen talks, Ding proposed that China invest heavily in climate science and emissions monitoring. The result is a 5-year, $125 million initiative just getting under way that will compile a CO2 emissions inventory, explore carbon sequestration and how China can adapt to climate change, and probe how the climate responds to rising greenhouse gas levels. The initiative involves hundreds of researchers at two dozen CAS institutes and four other government bodies, including the powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which oversees economic planning. It wasn’t easy getting the project off the ground. Ding met resistance from other agencies when he sought to build broad support for the initiative earlier this year. In part that’s because Ding has openly challenged aspects of the scientifi c consensus on climate change, such as whether current agreed targets—such as capping atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 450 parts per million and limiting global temperature rise to 2°C on average—are meaningful. Ding believes the climate may not be as sensitive to rising CO2 levels as models predict. “If you look at the data in the last 200 years, there are so many uncertainties,” he says. In a March 2010 interview with China’s CCTV, Ding was blunter, comparing the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate

DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6058.886-a

Cite this paper

@article{Jiao2011ClimateCC, title={Climate change. China looks to balance its carbon books.}, author={Li Xin Jiao and Richard Stone}, journal={Science}, year={2011}, volume={334 6058}, pages={886-7} }