More than 50% of China’s 1.3 billion people are now living in urban areas as the government continues to pursue a major policy of urbanization. Along with China’s rapid economic development, this has contributed to major environmental problems that are particularly severe in urbanized areas. There is a pressing need to build a research program in the Institute to address such problems.
The fourth IPCC assessment report has noted that it is very likely (>90% probability) that global warming is related to increasing anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) over the past 50 years. Global warming poses a great challenge to regional sustainable development, especially for developing countries since they lack both the technological and financial capacity to respond to these problems. Given China’s size and reliance on fossil fuels for energy, the country’s high carbon emissions have become an important issue both domestically and internationally. The rapid development of China’s economy has been accompanied by a sharp increase in energy consumption, and China’s coal-dominated fuel portfolio appears difficult to alter in the short run. In addition to CO2 emissions, coal-burning has also created severe air pollution, threatening the health of local residents. Thus it is critical for China to seek an innovative approach to address these issues together. A co-benefit approach stresses that measures primarily intended to reduce greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions or local air pollutants may often yield synergistic benefits. Several co-benefit studies have been conducted in China utilizing this approach. For instance, Aunan et al. analyzed health benefits and socio-economic costs of climate change and air quality polices in China at the national and provincial levels, the latter exemplified by Shanxi Province. Chen et al. (2006) evaluated co-benefits for both air pollutants and GHG emission reduction in Shanghai. However, there is still a lack of more detailed regional studies in China, in particular those which identify the key driving forces of GHG emissions and air pollutants, so that appropriate mitigation policies can be adopted.
In light of the above, it is critical to identify the drivers influencing regional CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption and project the potential impact of different GHG mitigation measures through scenario analysis. The main goal is to pursue co-benefits through innovative low carbon development so that the linkages between total GHG emissions from different sectors as well as geographic and administrative regions can be recognized. Such an approach can uncover the relationship between policies associated with global climate change and emission reductions. In addition, it is also necessary to quantify the potential economic impacts of various co-benefit policies on energy savings and emission reductions and to identify the most appropriate policies so that emission reductions in both pollutants and greenhouse gases can be realized.
In order to focus on these problems, a team has been established in the Circular Economy and Industrial Ecology Research Group. Key members include Professor Geng Yong, Associate Professor Xue Bing, and Assistant Professor Lu Xuepeng. The team initiated their research on co-benefits in 2011. At that time, the Institute of Advanced Studies at the United Nations University (UNU-IAS) invited this research team to join their eco-benefit study, funded by the Ministry of Environment of Japan. Professor Geng Yong was also invited as a guest editor for a special issue on co-benefits by the Journal of Cleaner Production. This special issue has now been published, in which Professor Geng, Dr. Xue and Dr. Ren Wanxia contributed three papers. The research team has also published a co-benefit study on Shenyang in Urban Climate and another on wind power in Xinjiang in Renewable Energy, as well as several papers in Chinese. The above studies have established a solid foundation for the research team to further their efforts in this area.
In addition, the research team has participated in an international cooperative network, in particular with scholars from UNU-IAS, the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) in Japan and the University of Leeds. They have jointly published many papers in international journals. The research team has received several grants from the Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and several international funding agencies. Thus both human and financial resources have been ensured to support this research effort. It is anticipated that several high quality research papers will be completed, targeting mainstream journals such as Environmental Science and Technology, Nature-Climate Change, Energy, Energy Policy, and Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review.