EU plans may hit air pocket

Updated: 2011-05-20 11:03

By Li Jing (China Daily European Weekly)

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 EU plans may hit air pocket

China Eastern Airlines Corp airplanes parked at the Beijing airport. Four Chinese airlines including China Eastern that operate flights between China and Europe have been asked to abide by the European Union's emission program. Provided to China Daily

EU moving faster

Yang Fuqiang, a senior consultant on climate change and energy at the US-based Natural Resources and Defense Council, says the aviation sector is a "delicate choice" by the EU to extend its carbon-pricing system to the rest of the world. Designing the rules is relatively easy, Yang says, and calculating emissions is less complicated than in other industrial sectors.

ETS, launched in 2005, now covers 12,000 power plants, factories and other industrial facilities. It is the world's largest cap-and-trade system dealing with carbon emissions. By setting limits on greenhouse gases and then allowing companies to buy and sell permits corresponding to their emission levels, such a system offers an economic and effective way to curb emissions. It also encourages innovation in green technologies.

With this system, the EU is moving much faster than individual developed countries in cutting carbon emissions.

The EU has long sought to engage other major economies, such as the US, Japan and China, in carrying out similar efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Emission-cutting efforts could be under bilateral or multilateral mechanisms, as long as the countries work to reduce carbon emissions. But international negotiations on overall climate solutions are at a stalemate, so the outlook for a multilateral mechanism is gloomy.

Yang says the EU is trying to "bring everybody to sit down and have a talk" on dealing with global aviation's carbon footprint. The sector accounts for about 3.5 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 190 countries and regions are negotiating toward a legally binding agreement by the end of this year. Ideally, the global deal would provide comprehensive solutions to combat global warming and would be based on the universally accepted principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", which exempts developing countries from obligations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

More to come

Given the facts that China is one of the world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters (with the United States) and its economy continues to grow, experts say it will become the target of similar unilateral programs, despite its efforts to bring down carbon intensity domestically.

"China should better prepare itself for similar cases and work out better tactics, instead of just saying no," Yang says. "This would require extensive research work by think tanks in the country."

The EU's move is an alert to China's business sectors that it is time to face the climate challenge seriously. Otherwise, they are bound to face more strains on carbon emissions in future global competition.

"The same is true for the whole country," Yang says. "Now we can still use the developing status to refuse the carbon reduction obligations, but by 2020, China will have to shoulder more responsibilities as a major world power.

"There is not much time left."

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