Understanding China’s climate change goals
China is responsible for nearly 30% of global carbon emissions. What he does to curb them will be crucial in the battle to stop global warming. Last week, the economic powerhouse put in place a national carbon emissions trading scheme as part of efforts to peak in emissions by 2030., and for the country to be carbon neutral by 2060. Lucy Craymer explains what the country is really aiming for and what it means for the health of the world.
What is the current situation?
China is home to around 18% of the world’s population and is responsible for 28% of global manufacturing. Its huge manufacturing sector, coal-fired power plants, and steel and concrete production all emit gases that contribute to climate change.
But in September last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would step up efforts to tackle climate change; that carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030; and the country will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
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The move was touted as an important step in global efforts to tackle climate change, which have historically been led by developed – richer countries.
“What China does matters more than anyone, because it is the world’s largest emitter,” says Dave Frame, director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at the University of Victoria.
Let’s start with the basics: Global warming emissions, aka greenhouse gases, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.
Carbon dioxide makes up the largest portion of these gases – about 76 percent, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. It tends to enter the atmosphere through the combustion of fossil fuels – coal, natural gas and petroleum – and solid waste; and by certain chemical reactions.
In 2020, China produced around 14,400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), which equates to the total annual emissions of nearly 180 of the world’s lowest countries, according to independent US-based research and analysis company Rhodium Group. CO2e is the standard unit for measuring a country’s climate footprint and includes all of the different types of greenhouse gases.
New Zealand is the 21st worst greenhouse gas emitter per capita in the world and produces about 0.17% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
This is important because carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, trapping additional heat and raising the Earth’s average temperature. Climate change is causing sporadic extreme conditions such as severe winter storms and summer heat waves, as well as melting ice.
But how much should China be blamed?
There is no doubt that China is a huge contributor to the gases that are responsible for changing climatic conditions, but on a per capita basis they are still much lower than in the developed world. According to Rhodium Group, China’s per capita emissions were 10.1 tonnes in 2019, which is slightly lower than average levels for Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and significantly lower than the per capita level. the United States.
China, as well as other developing countries that have signed the Paris Agreement, does not face such stringent requirements to reduce emissions as developed countries. The accord calls on developed countries to take the lead in setting absolute economy-wide reduction targets, while developing countries simply need to step up their greenhouse gas reduction efforts and are encouraged. progress towards economy-wide goals.
Beijing, for its part, argues that rich developed countries must take more responsibility and spend more to help developing countries reduce their emissions. This argument is based in part on the fact that developed countries have had relatively higher greenhouse gas emissions over the past two centuries. Since 1750, members of the OECD emitted four times more CO2 on a cumulative basis than China, according to Rhodium Group.
What’s China’s plan?
President Xi announced that China will aim to be carbon neutral by 2060. This means that the country will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions or offset them to a neutral level by that year.
In 2020, China’s carbon dioxide emissions were around 70% of the country’s total greenhouse gases and totaled around 10,190 million tonnes, according to Rhodium Group. This is the gas China is targeting, not other gases like methane.
Frame says there are a number of different interpretations of what it means to be carbon neutral, depending on the country and how they achieve their goals.
“The last time I looked I saw a dozen different ways of saying it,” he says.
New Zealand, for example, plans to reduce all greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, with the exception of biogenic methane emitted from plant and animal sources. These methane emissions accounted for nearly 40% of New Zealand’s emissions in 2018, according to government accounts.
To achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, China will need to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 85% from its 2020 levels, according to to a reportt written by Betty Wang, senior Chinese economist at ANZ in Hong Kong. The report says the technology to capture, use and store carbon will also be needed if the country is to meet its target.
Xi also added this same speech that China would reduce its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by more than 65% from 2005 levels; increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25 percent; increase forest stock by about 40 percent from 2005 levels; and increase its total installed wind and solar power capacity to over 1.2 billion kilowatts.
In the press release from China 14th five-year plan earlier this year – a comprehensive plan for China’s overall economic and social development – Beijing reaffirmed its goal that climate pollutants continue to decline and that it would formulate a plan to peak carbon emissions before 2030.
But Hill + Knowlton Strategies, an American consultancy firm, says in a brief prepared for clients that while there was a push towards clean and efficient use of coal, the plan was disappointing for many climate activists, who hoped for a transition away from coal. , and an objective of limiting total energy consumption.
The plan says China will work on a strategy that will see carbon dioxide emissions peak in 2030 and Beijing has separately committed to developing long-term strategies aimed at carbon neutrality before the climate summit in Glasgow at the end of the year.
How is it going?
China’s carbon emissions are estimated to have increased in 2020. This contrasts with many countries, which have seen their emissions drop due to the impact of Covid-19 on the transportation and production sectors.
However, Rhodium Group claims that China has met its Copenhagen Accord commitments to reduce its carbon intensity as a proportion of GDP from 40 to 45% of 2005 levels and to increase the share of non-fossil energy in its consumption. primary energy to about 15%. But he notes that the country’s continued growth in emissions compromises the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.
Jorrit Gosens, a researcher at the Center for Climate and Energy Policy at the Australian National University, says China’s target of peaking emissions by 2030 is not particularly ambitious given the efficiency improvements already observed in its energy sector.
“And the 2060 target doesn’t say much about what they’re going to do in the next five years,” he says. But he notes that the 2060 target is very ambitious.
China announced details of its new carbon trading market last Wednesday. The first stage of the national emissions trading system will cover more than 2,000 power plants, before being extended to other sectors such as cement, steel and aluminum, said Zhao Yingmin, vice-president. -Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment, in a press conference that day.
As in similar programs globally, companies will be given carbon credits that they can either use to cover their own emissions or sell on the market. If their emissions are higher than those allocated, they will have to buy credits to cover them.
Gosens says the slow introduction of China is similar to how countries like Europe have introduced their trading systems, allowing companies to adapt.
“The Chinese government is somewhat reluctant to increase the level of ambition of its system because it does not know exactly how this will affect profitability,” he adds.
How does China’s plan compare to other commitments?
China’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2060 is less ambitious than many other countries, but not in terms of its wealth. The United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, the United Kingdom and Japan, along with more than 110 countries, have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.
However, the United Nations notes that this is not enough, as there have not yet been bold commitments to mobilize the funding needed to achieve the net zero commitment by 2050, nor, more broadly, the goals of. sustainable development of the United Nations.
Additionally, India, one of the world’s largest emitters, has yet to commit to becoming carbon neutral. Although Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the end of 2019 at the Climate Ambition Summit that: “We have to accept that if we are to overcome a serious challenge like climate change, then what we are doing right now is simply not enough.”
This statement is true for most countries.