China’s carbon emissions – History, status and outlook

Interviewer: Why did you choose to study climate change and sharing economy what’s so special about these two things?

Dr Mi: My interest in climate change started in 2009 when the united nations climate change conference was here in Copenhagen. In that time, I realized that climate change is damaging our society and mitigating climate change is very important for our sustainable development so I would like to make contributions to this field. I have been researching on climate change in the past 12 years. Sharing economy is a very emerging economic model it’s usually defined as a peer-to-peer based sharing of products or services. I think the sharing economy has a much potential to mitigate climate change to promote sustainable development because sharing economy can increase the resources utilization efficiency. Therefore, I have been combining the sharing economy and climate change in my research.

Interviewer: You mentioned that you have studied this for 12 years, during the process of studying and having research, what are some of the most interesting or rewarding parts that you find?

Dr Mi: I would like to introduce my work about carbon inequality. There have been many studies on the carbon inequalities among different countries. For example, the carbon footprint per capita in theU.S is three times of that in the UK, which is a huge gap. My research pays attention to the carbon inequality at individual or household level. I want to know how difference-to-difference of carbon footprint between different people. Generally speaking, richer people have higher carbon footprint. In China, the top 5% income earner is responsible for about 17% of national carbon footprints and thebottom 50% of income earners only cost about 25%, which a huge gap between different people. In international climate change negotiation, there is a very important principle named common but differentiated responsibility principle. It means that all countries have shared responsibility in mitigating climate change but their responsibility is not equal. I think this principle can also be used in one country. The rich people have higher carbon footprint so they should pay more responsibility. Also, when the government is making climate actions, they need to consider this policy impacts on different income groups. We need to let richer people to take more responsibilities.

Interviewer: You mentioned that the wealthy people tend to have more carbon foot consumption compared to the poor people and therefore should have more responsibilities. We have also seen a lot of campaigns or information on our social media trying to raise people’s awareness about the importance of climate mitigation and climate change, do you they are really effective?

Dr Mi: I think these campaigns are useful to mitigate climate change because on the one hand, it can let more people to realize the importance of climate change mitigation and increase the people’s willingness to pay to mitigate climate change. On the other hand, it can put pressure on governments to encourage them to take more actions. Of course, there are also some campaigns in China to promote the climate change mitigation actions.

Interviewer: You talked about the trends of carbon footprint in china but what are some of the factors or reasons behind it that’s driving the converging carbon footprint in china?

Dr Mi: When I talk about the converging carbon footprint, I mean the carbon inequality is declining in china so you know as I mentioned before there are a large gap in carbon footprint among different income groups. In the past 10 years, the carbon inequality has been declining. We developed a carbon footprint gene coefficient to measure the inequality you might know the Gini coefficient for income which is an indicator to show the income inequality. So I use this concept to develop a Gini coefficient for carbon footprints. Our research shows that Gini carbon footprint coefficient has declined largely in the past decade in china. This mostly comes from two reasons. Firstly, the greener lifestyle so it means that people prefer the greener and low carbon low carbon lifestyle the second is the declining gap between the consumption in China.

Interviewer: So for all these factors that you just mentioned before, does Chinese government have any policy that they could potentially use or what they have already proceed to promote and encourage these factors?

Dr Mi: Yes, Chinese government has been working hard to mitigate and adapt to climate change. There are mainly two ways to mitigate climate change from production perspective the first one isenergy structure change the second one is energy efficiency improvement. So carbon emissions are mainly from fossil energy (coal, oil, natural gas). Unfortunately, our world still depends on fossil energy in our energy supply. The first way to mitigate climate change is to shift fossil energy to renewable energy like hydro power, wind power, solar power. China now has the largest instilled capacity in renewable energy in hydro power, wind power and solar power. China has been promoting the development of renewable energy the second way is to increase the energy efficiency. It means that we need to reduce the carbon intensity which means the carbon emissions per unit of GDP. From 2005 to 2020, China’s carbon intensity declined by about 50%. It means that if we use 100kg steel to produce our products in 2005, now we only need 50kg to produce the same products.

Interviewer: So those are mainly from the production side like you mentioned the structural change and the structural transition. What are some of the changes that happen in the consumption side? For example, now people try to have a healthier and greener lifestyle.

Dr Mi: The energy structure change and energy efficiency improvement are all from production perspective. If we look at this question from the consumption perspective we will have new solutions for mitigating climate change. In the past 20 years a good thing is that increasing people are aware that climate change is a serious issue and they would like to take actions to mitigate climate change. Now more people prefer the greener and lower carbon lifestyle so for example we can take the public transportation rather than driving a car or we can buy an electronic car rather than the car using the oil. One of the most important issues is that consumers need to know that almost all consumption will induce carbon emissions, the food we eat the clothes we wear the phone we use, there are all carbonemissions in producing these products. Therefore, we need to take our action to a low carbon lifestyle, for example we should not waste food, we should we should take our action to buy the products which have the lower carbon emissions. The changes in lifestyle will make a large contribution toclimate change mitigation.

Interviewer: Apart from like all the factors from the production and consumption side like the transition of industries and then the change of lifestyles, what about the structural change of the economy like the sharing economy concept which you are the expert of this field.

Is sharing economy an effective way to promote sustainability and what is its relationship to climate change?

Dr Mi: Sharing economy has a much potential to promote urban sustainability and mitigate climate change you know sharing economy is a peer-to-peer based sharing and access of goods or services so it means that sharing economy can increase the utilization efficiency of products. It can help us to reduce the usage of resources. Many studies have proved that sharing economy has environmental benefits. In my own research I have estimated the environmental impacts of bike sharing so we have estimated bike sharing programs in Shanghai, in New York and in Washington DC. Our results show that the bike sharing can help us to reduce the energy use, the carbon dioxide emissions, the air pollution emissions in the transportation system. Therefore, sharing economy has a much potential to reduce carbon emissions so I think in the future we can rely more on shared economy in mitigating climate change

Interviewer: Which one do you think plays a bigger role like the factors from the production side or from the consumption side and the role of the sharing economy concept, which one you think that now has played a bigger role or in the future could potentially have more impact to the climate change mitigation?

Dr Mi: It’s hard to say which part has a bigger role. I think in order to mitigate climate change, government should play a critical role. For enterprises they have the motivation to make profits somitigate carbon emissions usually means a high cost for a company. Therefore, the governments need to make policies need to provide incentives for low carbon production. In addition to this, governments from different countries need to cooperate on climate change mitigation. It is very difficult to get a global earned agreement on climate change because of the externalities of climate change action. When one country takes actions to mitigate climate change the benefits are not only enjoyed by this country but it is shared by all the people in all countries. Thus, all the government have the motivation to let other countries to take more responsibility which they can be the free riders. Therefore, if we want to meet mitigate climate change effectively, the government from all countries need to cooperate to work together in order to get a global agreement.

Interviewer: With this trend of climate change that’s now happening globally, specifically to China what are some of the industries that you think would be negatively affected and what are some of the industries will be promoted?

Dr Mi: If we want to mitigate climate change we need to transform our economy. So generally speaking, the industries using fossil energy will be negatively impacts for example the energy sector, the heavy manufacturing sectors. These sectors are usually energy and carbon intensive and therefore will be negative affected. By comparison, some emerging industries such as the new energy the new materials these industries will be promoted from this low carbon transition because these newindustries will make contributions to climate change mitigation.

Interviewer: You just mentioned that the renewable energy and the new energy sectors will be promoted because of this transition, what does this mean for people and students who are still at undergraduate or graduate or for people who just start their career, could you give us some of the insights and suggestions that you might have?

Dr Mi: So you know in the next 50 or 40 years, climate change mitigation will be one of the most important issues for the world as well as for china. China aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.For undergraduate students they are usually 20 years old, so 40 years later in 2060 you will be about 60 years old so it means that you will see the achievement of carbon neutrality targets of china and you will also be the main contributor to this target. Therefore, for the undergraduate students if you want to make contributions to climate change mitigation then you can select some jobs which are highly related to climate change for example the renewable energy sector the new material sector andthe electric car sectors. These kinds of job will be beneficial for you as well as for the country since in these emerging industries you might get more opportunities in your career and the government also need you to take these new jobs to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


Interviewer: Kecheng Liu

Guest speaker: Dr Zhifu Mi

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