China is talking about geoengineering

Janos Pasztorby Janos Pasztor, Executive Director / October 5, 2017

I have been a regular visitor to Beijing since 1987, and every time it has felt like a time warp. In the early days, the time warp was into the past; more recently it has been into the future.

This July I had the opportunity to spend a week there, visiting government officials, as well as representatives of scientific institutions, thinks tanks and civil society organizations. I wanted to find out what China was doing on climate geoengineering, and how officials and others would respond to C2G2’s objectives and priorities.

rental bicycles in Beijing

Rental bicycles of different colours (different companies) in Beijing. Note the QR codes on both bikes to unlock via WeChat

What first struck me was the Beijing traffic: rental bicycles were everywhere, all paid for on WeChat (the ubiquitous Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, which you need to download if you want do anything in Beijing), alongside fleets of small mopeds – all electric. The only car ads I saw – on the huge billboards on the buildings, and in the amazing subway systems of Beijing – were for electric models.

China is a global leader on combating climate change, and my experience during this week confirmed this. At Beijing Normal University, I found a fantastic group of undergraduate, graduate and postdoc researchers doing amazing work on modeling the impacts of climate change, as well as of potential geoengineering interventions. Some were also looking into governance issues.

Science has a privileged position in China, and decision-makers in government take the recommendations of their scientists very seriously. For issues of global importance, such as climate change or climate geoengineering, they also wait for international science bodies, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to come to policy-relevant conclusions before formulating their own policies.

China Meteorological Administration

After our meeting at the China Meteorological Administration

Independent and quasi-governmental think-tanks also play a key role, and we plant to start working with a number of them. I met several linked to Tsinghua University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CASS), as well as to the Ministry of Environment. Very importantly for C2G2, I met Prof. PAN Jiahua at CASS, who agreed to join our Advisory Group. He and his team have also done work on the governance of geoengineering.

Unlike in Europe or North America, in China there did not appear to be a stigma in talking about the possible future use of climate geoengineering. Its strong national experience in weather modification is perhaps partially responsible for this – the China Meteorological Administration is closely following geoengineering developments.

In my meetings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I found a strong interest in understanding the potential risks and benefits (including geopolitical) of geoengineering.  I noted they were carefully following developments in the Arctic – with concern, but also with opportunities in mind!

My most exciting moment came after meeting a senior government minister leading China’s international engagement on climate change.  I was informed that after our encounter phone calls were made, and meetings were requested to be held on the governance of geoengineering. This is exactly what we are hoping to achieve in C2G2: getting these issues onto national government agendas.

Beijing subway commuters

Beijing subway travellers “We-Chat-ing”

Engaging with China is a major step forward for us.  What China does or does not do in relation to climate geoengineering will have a major impact, and C2G2 is keen to explore further how China can contribute to an international debate on its governance.

In other words, watch this space! In the meantime, I have a few dozen WeChat messages on my phone from Beijing colleagues that need to be answered…

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