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This is China’s chance to lead the way to sustainability

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — China’s status as a global leader in carbon dioxide emissions gives it a unique opportunity to also be a leader in slashing them, experts say.

In 2011, China accounted for a quarter of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. The problems include air pollution, squandered energy resources, and economic stresses that squelch growth.

But researchers say that along the way, China’s vast variety of economic and geographic circumstances offers a chance to set examples for its global neighbors. Recycling and a reinvigorated domestic energy market offer a way to make a significant impact.

“Reducing CO2 emissions in China has profound implications for global sustainability,” says Jianguo “Jack” Liu, director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University.

For China to meet its international obligation to cut CO2 releases, make the most of its fossil energy supplies, and battle its choking air pollution levels, Liu and colleagues propose a five-pronged script in the journal Nature:

  • Rebalance its coal-heavy energy portfolio with recycling and renewable energies
  • Set emissions-mitigation indicators to physical output rather than to economic growth
  • Balance regional energy supply and demand
  • Link energy to market mechanisms rather than set centrally by authorities
  • Reduce air pollutants

There are opportunities to fill gaps, such as being able to better link China’s burgeoning ability to produce the mechanics of renewable energy with its oft-deficient electrical grids. Or work harder to substitute natural gas and nuclear energy for coal.

China can better spread the burden more equitably, the report says.

The country struggles with imbalances between the rural areas that often produce energy and metropolitan areas that burn through it. The economic development of poor regions that depend on carbon-intensive industries such as cement and steel would benefit from more forgiving emissions targets, Liu says.

“Evaluating options requires a good understanding of China as a coupled human and natural system.”

Researchers from Harvard University, the University of Leeds, the University of Cambridge, and Tsinghua University contributed to the report.

Source: Michigan State University

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