ICET Piloting Voluntary Climate Registry in Southern China

Possible Solution to US-China Dispute Over Verifying Emissions

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Reporting from Copenhagen

One of the biggest sticking points for China and the U.S. when it comes to a global climate deal is monitoring, reporting, and verifying of greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. wants emerging markets (most notably China) to agree to international regulations. China refuses as a “matter of principle.”

In a sparsely attended side-event amid the Copenhagen climate talks this week, a small Chinese NGO described one potential solution: It is piloting a grassroots project for reporting greenhouse gas emissions in China.

Using the model of the California-based Climate Registry, ICET (Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation) is working on a climate and energy registry for businesses and municipalities in Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces in southern China.

The hold-up in negotiations in Copenhagen, one of if not the absolutely toughest sticking points for the last days of negotiations centers on developed country demands that developing countries adhere to the same “measurable, reportable, verifiable” (MRV) standards on emissions reporting that developed countries are expected to uphold.

For developing countries, this is akin to holding them equally responsible for the “historic” greenhouse gas emissions that have damaged the environment. For emerging markets in particular, it is an affront.

“In principle, developing countries don’t have a problem with monitoring and reporting,” said Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Economic Development (IIED). “It’s a question of verification that raises problems. … Their problem is with international verification because they feel domestic actions should be domestically verified.”

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei argues China’s position this way: “There is no MRV internationally negotiated. It is a matter of principle.” To require such standards, he said, “goes against letter and spirit of Bali action plan.”

The Bali Action Plan’s “common but differentiated responsibilities” for climate change instead require from developing countries Nationally Appropriate Mitigating Actions, or NAMAs.

“We’re very serious about … what we have committed to do,” He Yafei said. “First of all, it goes through our own legal process. There will be a legal guarantee domestically. It also will have a regime of monitoring verification, statistical supervisions domestically, within china. We are also willing to increase transparency by announcing the results of our actions by reports coming out of China. There are no problems for transparency.”

In precedent, actions by national governments are verified either by parliaments, through parliamentary oversight committees or through national third party entities. What’s most important, explains Huq, is that the process is transparent.

“If it’s done in a transparent manner it doesn’t matter who does it, we know it’s being done, it’s being verified and with developing countries in particular, that’s the kind of thing developing countries need to explore.”

ICET offers a policy advantage because it is “policy neutral,” said Lucia Green-Weiskel, Project Officer for ICET’s Climate Change program. She describes the registry as an “active disclosure” project to expand “transparency” so that “everybody can know more.”

To implement the registry itself, ICET is working with the Climate Registry out of California to construct the software capability to carry out the monitoring and reporting. The Climate Registry is an NGO that since 2002 has been working with organizations, businesses, local governments, and associations throughout the state to inventory, monitor, and report greenhouse gas emissions. The registry is strictly voluntary and provides, according to Robyn Camp, its vice president, a “comparable, consistent, transparent” standard verified by a third party and publicly available through the Internet.

Registries in general “are a great policy neutral tool to help build capacity, raise awareness of issues, and to help each organization understand what its footprint is,” Camp said.

The sister registry, as would be implemented in southern China (Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), would have one major difference to the Climate Registry in California: It would be adapted to report energy intensity, a policy goal specific to China’s national emissions reduction strategy.

Green-Weiskel says the registry will standardize China’s emissions data, which will increase transparency and reliability not only in China, but also across the world.

Businesses, both state owned enterprises and multinational corporations, and local organizations like schools and hospitals will all ideally participate. Green-Weiskel says participation in the registry will promote a green image, reduce energy costs, and “provides opportunity for leadership and early action” on a globally recognized environmental standard.

Part of the registry’s approach is outreach to potential Chinese participants by increasing awareness of carbon emissions among business and government employees.

For the Climate and Energy Registry, it is working with the CNIS (China National Institute of Standardization), and NRDC (National Research and Development Commission) as well as the municipalities of Jiangsu and Guangdong.

ICET is confident about the success of the project as China enshrines its carbon intensity reduction commitments in legislation and in its five-year plans that govern both local and national economics.

China’s 11th five-year plan (2006-2010), for instance, required that the energy consumption per unit GDP be reduced 20% and emissions from major pollutants be reduced by 10%. China introduced a 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus package, 370 billion of which was allocated to structural adjustment and technology upgrades.

“Ladies and gentleman, I am proud to report that this target will be complete,” Assistant Minister of Finance Zhu Guangyao said today in a press briefing on China’s Fiscal Climate Change policy. The assistant minister also commented on MRVs, explaining that China will handle the matter domestically.

Yufu Cheng, ICETs program director, cautions that while commitment is strong, capacity is still lacking.

“Chinese government set up the targets, but if you don’t have the right capacity you cannot get it done. For example, you have to know how much GHG Chinese are making right now, especially for companies, the government agencies then they cannot set strategy. … No matter how ambitious the target is, you have to have the capacity to make it work.”

The United States has long criticized Chinese government transparency, particularly its currency policy, export and growth statistics. Export and GDP figures are widely held to be inflated. It is doubtful, therefore, that the U.S. will accept China’s insistence that any MRV effort be done domestically, under it’s own legal process.

Huq thinks that in today’s China, this mistrust might be a remnant of another time.

“The Chinese government has been functioning for 50 years; they have a system. It needs to be trusted,” Huq said. “It has huge … resources that it spends of its own that have oversight from its own systems.”

“Who knows what the U.S. will accept,” Huq added, clearly frustrated. “The U.S. says one thing, does another thing. They do mostly domestic politics. They come out here in the international arena and they act as if they are talking to their own people. Their own people don’t get it. They have to work at home. They simply are not engaging in the level that’s needed in the international arena.”

A registry like ICET might might be able to help bridge the gap between the U.S. and China, and similar projects may do so as well in other emerging markets. Feng An, executive director of ICET, says, “we believe we are an MRV resource.”

ICET provides “a made in China” and “grassroots” solution, says Green-Weiskel.

“It’s more feasible, having an NGO bring in a program that reflects best-practices,” she said. Especially if it’s a Chinese registered NGO, headquartered in Beijing, as ICET is.

“It’s our hope,” Green-Weiskel says, “It’s not our official mandate, but we very much hope to fit into a national mandate.”


See also:

China Sets 2020 Emissions Target in Interest of National Security

Tech Transfer Stymied by Lack of Climate Funding from Rich

Adapting and Mitigating Climate Change: A Deeply Nuanced Approach

China’s Entrepreneurs Are Ready, But Is Their Government?

US Declares Greenhouse Gases a Danger to Public Health and Welfare

Is China Still a Developing Country?