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China’s ‘complicated’ role in fight against climate change

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When the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies — and its two biggest polluters —  finally saw eye to eye on climate change, they paved the way for a historic global agreement to fight it.

“We have both determined that it is our responsibility to take action,” then-U.S. President Barack Obama said in 2015, with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his side.

Three years after they helped forge the landmark Paris agreement, representatives from some 200 countries meeting in Poland have yet to agree on a final rule book to implement it. This time, the U.S. and China are effectively on opposite sides of the climate discussion, which isn’t helping.

And of the two countries, China is now seen as the reliable one.

China — the world’s leader in green technology — is seen as being ahead in the fight against climate change. Leading environmentalist Al Gore told the Washington Post that “China’s role is complicated, but in some ways, they’re moving the ball in the right direction.”

A lot has changed on the international landscape since the United States and China cooperated on the Paris climate deal in 2015. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

It is complicated — because as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China is also very much part of the problem.

Unlike the U.S. under Donald Trump, which has announced its withdrawal from the Paris agreement, China continues to champion the accord. It is knee-deep in the multilateral process of solving one of the world’s most pressing challenges, and Chinese negotiators have been working, along with those of the European Union, drafting the last-minute proposals to untangle some of the key points of contention at the conference in Katowice.

So while its relationships with both the U.S. and Canada have deteriorated in recent days and weeks over other significant issues, China is seen as indispensable at the climate table.

“When the U.S. stepped back, China decided to step up,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment minister. She has had several meetings with Chinese representatives leading up to the conference, as well as in Poland this week.

“The role China plays around the negotiating table can’t be underestimated.”

China also made a significant concession on Thursday, agreeing to a uniform set of rules for developed and developing nations, after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a call to Xi urging compromise.

“We need to avoid straying from the principles and spirit of the Paris agreement,” veteran Chinese climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters.

A challenge and an opportunity

China has compelling — and urgent — reasons to be active at the table.

Pollution is a huge problem in China’s cities, a problem that the central government is “very serious” about tackling, says Jonas Nahm, assistant professor of energy, resources and environment at Johns Hopkins University

China is also lacking in arable land and water resources and is fighting desertification in the north, says Nahm.

“Climate change is hugely threatening to them and they know it,” he says.

China, a country of 1.3 billion, is still hugely reliant on coal, and observers say its shift away from coal domestically has slowed down. While it has been more successful than many developed nations in staying on track to meet its promises to cut emissions, environmentalists predict emissions may soon start going up again.

One challenge, Nahm says, is that decisions on climate matters aren’t always made at the central government level. Local governments can make decisions that, for example, favour the rampant use of coal for economic reasons.

But China has also recognized that acting on climate change can be a huge economic opportunity. While it may be the world’s biggest polluter, China is also the biggest producer of solar panels. It is building solar installations and wind farms in Africa.

It is also one of the top producers of electric cars — some of which will be on Canadian streets by the spring of 2019.

“This isn’t… an altruistic operation only [for China]. There are numbers on the table,” says Nahm.

Environmentalists predict that China’s emissions may soon start going up again, after initially staying on track to meet its promised cuts. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

There are also contradictions for China abroad. It aggressively exports its green technology, but it is also still helping countries like Vietnam build coal plants. Both are done as part of its Belt and Road initiative, which is helping develop markets for Chinese exports, while building political influence.

“That is giving people pause,” says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“You can’t say you want to create an ecological civilization and be a world multilateral leader on climate change, and then be funding more of the addiction to fossil fuels.”

Shifting from a ‘China-U.S.’ thing

Given the size of its population and its enormous emissions, environmentalists agree that China is essential to tackling a worldwide crisis far worse than it was believed to be in Paris. 

“China is absolutely fundamental,” says Mariana Panuncio-Feldman, senior director of international climate cooperation for the World Wildlife Fund.

“The fact that they are engaged — I see that as a very positive step.”

For the purposes of the talks in Poland, and despite its innovation on the technology front, China is considered a developing nation, and is the leading voice for other countries under that rubric.

It was partly China in that role, and its relationship with the U.S. as the leading developed nation, that helped clinch the Paris agreement.

The absence of that dynamic is partly what’s made negotiations harder this time, say veteran negotiators, especially as some of the major sticking points are again dividing the participants between developed and developing.

“There was a capacity to be a convener, each of us, on our own side… to help bring things together,” says Todd Stern, Obama’s lead negotiator at the Paris meeting, who was in the room when Obama and Xi met there.

This time, he says, “There is no China-U.S. thing at a political level.”

Even with a litany of domestic pollution problems, China is seen as a pivotal figure in the fight against climate change. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

But there is an EU-China thing now and a Canada-China thing, and participants in Poland hope those will suffice in reaching agreement.

“The centre of gravity is now shifting more to the European Union and China. But that hasn’t reached the same level of maturity as the U.S.-China relationship was under President Obama,” says Meyer.

Meyer and others still believe negotiators will find a way to reach an agreement, not only because tackling the climate crisis is even more urgent than it was understood to be in Paris — but also to prove that multilateralism works.

Still, China has lamented that the U.S. isn’t fully at the table.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” China’s negotiator, Xie, said at a media briefing yesterday. “We hope the U.S. will come back.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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