By Dorinda Elliott
It’s a truth universally acknowledged: the more an economy develops, the more energy it uses. But just because it’s true doesn’t make it any less disturbing, especially in the face of global climate change. And so when Elizabeth Moyer, associate professor of atmospheric science at the University of Chicago, launched the discussion at a US-China climate forum at the University of Chicago with a chart illustrating the economic development trajectory of most of the world’s countries over the past hundred years, she sent a sobering message. The clustered dots went up and up and up, reflecting ever-growing energy use.
That chart does not bode well for the future, particularly given China’s ambitions: as China climbs the prosperity ladder, even despite the best of intentions the country may have to conserve energy use, its energy consumption will continue to grow. More importantly, what if China’s energy consumption continues to rely on carbon-emitting coal, which accounts for 80 percent of its total electricity? Moyers showed more slides illustrating a dramatic impact on climate, causing rising seas and ultimately, devastation for China’s low-lying coastal cities. “We aren’t going to conserve our way out of this,” Moyer said. “We are going to have to find more sources of energy.”
The discussions and presentations by American and Chinese experts speaking at the U.S.-China Forum on May 19, co-sponsored by the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, the Paulson Institute and the China-US Exchange Foundation, couldn’t be more urgent. The scholars agreed on the need for the United States and China—experts, government and business leaders alike—to work together to tackle energy challenges and the economic transformation that fighting climate change will require. They noted that the US-China climate agreement signed in November 2014, in which China committed to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, represents a significant step forward: it signaled a new willingness on the part of China to work with the United States and perhaps even set a model for other nations to follow.
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