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译:China's carbon tax is very real

来源: 时间:2012-2-2 9:06:00 点击:

An incendiary Wall Street Journal article has accused Beijing of trying to dupe the world with a smokescreen carbon levy. The author is plain wrong, write Alivn Lin and Yang Fuqiang.


The news that China may very soon introduce a carbon tax has caused a stir. Of the many articles to address the topic, John Lee’s Wall Street Journal commentary “China’s Fake Carbon Tax”, published earlier this month, is particularly striking. In this confusing diatribe, Lee puts forward his personal theories about China’s motives. But these have no foundation in reality.

Why is China preparing to introduce a carbon tax? Taxing carbon is an effective market-based method for cutting carbon-dioxide emissions and tackling climate change. Many countries, both developed and developing, are considering a carbon tax, while some have already introduced one. The details of the tax differ from place to place, but the essential aim is the same: reducing carbon emissions; speeding up economic transition; promoting energy conservation and renewable-energy development; and mobilising industry enthusiasm for green measures.

At the same time as tackling climate change, carbon taxes can bring wider benefits to society. For example, measures to cut carbon emissions may also limit the release of other pollutants, while carbon funds can be used to help poor families buy energy-saving domestic appliances.

China’s approach to developing a carbon tax has been earnest and serious. We are honoured to have participated in the Chinese government’s research programme. In mid-2007, the Ministry of Finance formally listed a carbon tax in its revenue research plan. The government, bringing together top-level research units and the brightest minds, has since undertaken years of research on the topic. Key participating organisations have included the Institute of Fiscal Science, the Institute of Environmental Planning, the Energy Development and Reform Commission and Tsinghua University, among others.

Any carbon tax scheme introduced in China must properly account for the country’s phase of development, the impacts on different industries and consumers and the need to minimise negative impacts. The government must also choose the most favourable time for implementation. Certainly, China’s carbon tax will have its own characteristics and will not follow the same model used in developed countries.

However, Lee argues that the timing of recent announcements about the introduction of a carbon tax in China is suspicious. Since the economic crisis has meant a slowing in China’s economic growth, he concludes that the Chinese government must have hidden motives to introduce the tax. “Don’t be fooled by China’s actions,” he writes. “Beijing’s proposal is little more than clever political theatre, mixed with passing the economic buck.” From this starting point he launches an attack on China’s low-carbon plans.

China and other developing countries have made suitable Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA), setting out their commitments to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Where is the theatre in that? Compare this to the agreement reached at the 2009 summit in Copenhagen, when many western countries undertook to provide US$100 billion by 2020 to help developing countries deal with climate change. It is critical that developed countries step up to the plate in the post-2012 period and find ways to mobilise the money they have committed to provide to developing countries.

Compared to many developed countries, developing-world nations tend to be very bad at public relations. According to international climate-change agreements, every country must report its emission-reduction actions and achievements. Between 2005 and 2010, during the 11th Five-Year Plan period, China’s efforts led to a carbon-emissions saving of about 1.5 billion tonnes – the world’s single biggest national emissions reduction. But even then, China didn’t make a political song and dance about it. Perhaps that is why when China announces a new emissions-reduction measure, Lee labels it: “political theatre” and “a pre-emptive strike against international pressure, not a commitment against climate change”.

The Chinese government recently announced the launch of carbon-trading pilot projects in five cities in two provinces. Perhaps the government has done too little to publicise the scheme, or maybe Lee is simply ill-informed, but he arbitrarily claims that choosing to levy a carbon tax rather than adopting a cap-and-trade scheme “revealed the government’s true intent” – that there would be no “strict limit on the total amount of carbon emitted”. The truth is that China announced back in 2011 that it was gearing up to launch pilot carbon-trading platforms. In other words, China’s work on carbon trading pre-dates its action on carbon tax.

Introducing a carbon tax can actually help to promote and improve a carbon-trading system. A carbon tax and a carbon market can co-exist. And, if the price of carbon in the carbon market turns out to be a better signal of market information, it’s possible that the carbon tax won’t be needed any more. How these sorts of calls are made will depend on how things play out on the ground, but Lee wants to drag the discussion into the realm of conspiracy theory.

Green, low-carbon development is the road the Chinese economy must follow. In meeting the challenge of climate change, developing economies can’t take the high-emissions route, but must instead work to reduce their carbon footprint. This is different from the “pollute first, clean up later” path taken by developed countries.

When China, in advance of many developed countries, proposes a carbon tax and prepares to implement it during the 12th Five-Year Plan, it’s hardly surprising that some in the west, recognising that a carbon tax carries certain economic costs, wonder why. Lee, without doing any serious research, believes he has the answer: China wants to increase its “wiggle room” in international climate-change negotiations, “giving it the political cover to emit even more”.

But a carbon tax would invigorate emissions reduction efforts and reduce the quantity of emissions. In the early stages, it would increase costs, but the long-term positive effects and economic gains would be greater.

Clearly, China’s carbon tax plan should include a grace period for the businesses that will be most seriously affected to allow them to make the necessary changes and protect their competitiveness. During this grace period, a proportion of carbon tax revenue could be used to encourage such firms to complete the transition. But it is definitely not the case, as Lee writes, that “the government will ensure that these companies can easily bear the burden of reducing emissions.”

Lee’s crack at China’s energy-supply management is also off kilter. During the 11th Five-Year Plan, China closed down small thermal power plants with a total generating capacity of 20 million kilowatts, and new plants are all high-efficiency and large-scale. With one leap, China’s coal-fired power stations have made the transition to advanced international level, and their achievement in emissions reduction is outstanding. And yet Lee, citing data from an unknown source, says: “China’s coal consumption has been increasing by around 17% each year.” No matter how quickly coal-use is rising, an academic like Lee should not be trying to frighten people with figures plucked out of the air.

The key principles underpinning international climate-change negotiations must be adhered to. The Durban platform sets out a roadmap for reaching a new, legally binding convention on climate change action by 2015. Whether or not this agreement can maintain the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, “respective capabilities”, “fairness” and “environmental integrity” is a critical issue for both developed and developing nations.

Lee disregards these principles: let’s look at two examples he uses to justify his argument. First is the Chinese government’s opposition to European Union moves to bring aviation into its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The EU-ETS is generally a good thing for emissions reduction, but there is a design flaw: the system doesn’t differentiate between the aviation industries of developed and developing countries and for this reason it has failed to win unanimous support. Implementing it will be difficult. The system will put more pressure on, and cause more losses to, the aviation industries of developing countries than developed countries. Hopefully, before April 30, when the collection of fees formally starts, this key problem can be resolved through negotiation.

Second, is the burden of a Chinese carbon tax on exported products. Carbon-dioxide emissions from exported products account for 30% to 35% of China’s total emissions. A carbon tax, naturally, would target the companies with the highest emissions. In China’s 11th Five-Year Plan list of 1,000 high energy-consuming companies and 12th Five-Year Plan list of 10,000 high energy-consuming companies, there are few foreign firms but, as Lee points out, “foreign investors dominate China’s export industry”. In other words, foreign companies account for a large part of China’s export profits and will shoulder a tax burden. This is only fair. If, in implementation, points of unfairness do emerge, then they can be addressed through other measures.

But not everything Lee says in his article is wrong. In fact, we like two of his sentences so much, we will use them to conclude this article. The first is this: “Environmentalists will argue that plans for a carbon tax by the largest emitter of greenhouse gases are a sign of Beijing's genuine commitment to do its part.”

The second? “The carbon tax is of a piece with the fact that the current Five-Year Plan is the first to explicitly commit to market mechanisms to reduce the country’s carbon emissions as part of the plan's ‘green, low-carbon development concept’.”

 

                                                                                                                                                              (译文如有出入请联系本会,来源于chinadialogue)

译   文:

中国为什么研究和开征碳税

约翰·李在《华尔街日报》撰文,指责中国征收碳税是愚弄世界,是一场“政治秀”。林明彻和杨富强做了批驳。


“中国很快就要开征碳税”的新闻报道在国外主要媒体上搅得沸沸扬扬。在众多文章中,尤以《华尔街日报》约翰·李(John Lee)先生写的“中国开征碳排放税的真实意图”,最令人称奇和困惑。他从中国的碳税问题报道中,主观地推断出许多匪夷所思的言论,做出缺乏事实根据的论断。那么,中国为什么要研究和开征碳税呢?

碳税是应对气候变化和减少CO2排放的有效市场手段。许多发达和发展中国家都开展碳税的研究,有的国家已开征碳税。碳税归类和征收方式在许多国家表现形式很多,但实质都是一致的,就是如何减少CO2排放,帮助经济转型,促进节能和可再生能源开发,调动企业节能减碳的积极性。碳税还有许多环境保护和社会发展协同效应,例如减碳也会同时减少其他污染物的排放,碳基金可用于补助贫困家庭购买节能绿色的家用电器等。

中国积极开展碳税的研究是认真严肃的。我们很荣幸地参与过中国政府有关碳税的研究工作。中国财政部早在2007年年中就正式将碳税列入税收研究计划。中国召集顶尖的研究单位和人才,做了多年的碳税研究。主要参与的研究单位包括财科所、环境规划研究院、发改委能源所和清华大学等。中国的碳税方案要充分考虑中国经济的发展阶段,分析对不同部门和消费者的影响,并将负面作用降到最低,选择适当的有利时机出台。中国碳税方案肯定会有自己的特点,不会与其它发达国家的碳税一个模式。约翰·李先生认为近日有关中国碳税的报道,选择在世界经济衰退,包括中国经济发展减缓时候进行,推断出中国政府一定有其不能明说的政治意图,“不要被中国的举动所愚弄。北京的提议不过是一场聪明的政治秀,其中还有推诿经济责任之嫌”。他以此为启端,责难中国的碳税计划。

中国和其它发展中国家做出了国家适当的减缓行动(NAMA),有过什么做秀的地方吗?相比之下,许多发达国家在2009年的哥本哈根纪要上承诺到2020年,最终要达到1千亿美元的资金帮助发展中国家应对气候变化。但至今为止,连一分钱的影子也没有看到。这不是最大的政治秀是什么?

与发达国家相比,发展中国家宣传很差。根据气候谈判的要求,所有国家都必须报告本国减排行动和成果。中国在2005-2010年的第十一个五年计划中,做出了艰苦的努力,减少了约15亿碳排放,是世界上最大的国别减排行动。但是中国不会“政治做秀”,宣传不充分,固执地坚持“少说多做”。其结果就是,国际上很多人不了解中国所做的成果。或许这正是为什么只要中国推行了新的减排政策和举措,却被约翰·李先生扣上“政治做秀”,是“对抗国际压力的先发制人之举,而不是应对气候变化承诺”的原因。

中国政府最近公布在二省五市开展碳排放权交易试点工作的通知。不知中国政府的宣传不够,还是约翰·李先生的孤陋寡闻,武断地指出,选择征收碳税而不是总量控制和交易的碳市场,“暴露了政府的真实意图,”没有“对对碳排放做出严格限制。”事实是,中国的碳市场试点在2011年的五省八市上的计划上就已对外宣布要进行试点工作。在中国,碳市场工作已先于碳税做出行动,进行试点示范。我们认为,随后的碳税开征工作可以促进碳市场的建立和完善。碳税可以与碳市场并存。如果碳市场的碳价格信号能够更好的传递市场信息的话,也可以不需要碳税或者取消碳税。这种方案设计和选择取决实施效果,而约翰·李先生都偏偏要将其扯成“政治阴谋论”,是政治“做秀”。

低碳绿色发展是中国经济的必由之路。发展中国家在应对气候变化中不能走高碳之路,而要在发展中减少CO2排放。这不同于发达国家先排放先污染,后减排后治理之路。当中国先于许多发达国家提出碳税的研究并准备在十二五期间实施之时,难怪西方的一些人认为,碳税的做法都会增加一定的经济成本,为什么中国要开征碳税呢?约翰·李先生在没有认真做好研究之前,就武断地下结论,中国要在国际气候谈判上增加“周旋的余地”,“并披上一件政治外衣,好让其加大排放量”。碳税是会加大减排力度,减少排放量。初期碳税会增加成本,但长期来讲会有更多的正面效果和经济增益。显然,在碳税的设计中,对受影响最深的企业,应该给予一个缓冲期,达到转型和保持竞争力。在这一缓冲期内,可动用部分碳税收入促使这类企业完成过渡,但决不是约翰·李先生所说的中国“政府将保证这些企业能轻松承受减排负担。”

中国在十一五期间,关闭了二千万千瓦的小火电厂,新的发电容量都是高效的大型电厂。中国的电厂煤耗更是一跃而进入国际先进行列,减排效果显著。但令人惊讶得是,约翰·李先生不知从何处取得数据,说“中国煤炭消费量大约以每年17%的速度增加”。中国的煤炭消费增长再快,身为学者,总不能凭空捏造出一个年17%的高增长率来吓人吧?

气候变化谈判中的重要原则必须坚持。德班决议规定,在2015年前要有一个新的有法律强制力的公约。能不能坚持“共同但有区别的责任”、“各自能力”、“公平”和“环境整体性”等原则,是发达国家和发展中国家谈判的焦点。约翰·李先生在本文中恰恰忘了这些原则。约翰·李先生举了两个例子,一个是欧盟的航空排放交易体制(ETS)。欧盟ETS总的来说在减排方面迈出了一步,但由于其设计机制有一大缺陷,即没有将发达国家和发展中国家航空业区别对待,得不到支持,实施很困难。欧盟ETS令发展中国家航空业比发达国家的航空业压力大、损失多。我们希望在今年的4月30日正式收费前,通过谈判,解决这个关键问题。

另一个例子是中国出口商品的碳税。中国出口商品所隐含的CO2排放量约占中国总排放量的30-35%。中国碳税很自然主要针对排放量大的企业征收。在中国的十一五“千家能耗企业”以及十二五“万家能耗企业”中,国外的企业并不多见。相反,正如约翰·李先生所说,“外国投资者在中国出口业占主导地位”。换句话说,外国企业在中国出口的赢利中占相当大的部分,也要承担缴纳碳税,这样才是公平的。如果在实施中有偏差的地方,也可通过其它手段调节。显然,生产国承担其境内所有排放责任是不公平的。

当然,在中国碳税问题上,约翰·李先生并不是什么都没说对。我想引用他的下述两句话作为本文的结束语。一是“环保人士认为,做为温室气体最大排放国,中国计划开征碳排放税是北京真诚承诺尽到自己职责的一个迹象。”另一句是,“中国十二五规划提出“绿色、低碳发展观,”而计划开征碳税则证明了十二规划是首个明确承诺使用市场机制来降低中国碳排放的国家战略,也是践行上述发展观的表现。

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