I n mati era of climate change, no nation is more important than China. It consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined, and it is the leading issuer of greenhouse gas, accounting for nearly 30% of global emissions.
Unless China takes swift action to control emissions of greenhouse gas, there is no plausible way to achieve the goal of the Paris agreement on climate limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F), or even the less ambitious goal of “well below 2 ° C” (3.6 ° F).
So what is China doing to help the world avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and is it doing enough?
China's record is mixed. Over the past year, China has indicated that it intends to continue on an already well-established path of making modest and incremental contributions to the fight against climate change, an inadequate approach to achieving the goals. from Paris. Yet according Philipe Stalley, professor of environmental diplomacy and associate professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago and an expert on environmental diplomacy, following the actions of China for years, there is reason to believe that China could increase its efforts in the years to come.
The measured e e approach to China on climate change
A common misconception is that China lacks or fails to implement climate policies. The reality is that China has a solid set of climate and energy policies and a strong track record in meeting its commitments to the international community.
Driven by the desire to reduce air pollution, improve energy security and to dominate the industries of the future, China is the world's leading investor in renewable energy since 2013 buys the raw materials that these industries need, such as mines in Africa cobalt . It has three times more renewable energy capacity than any other country, and its use of electric vehicles is increasing. In 2019, about half of electric vehicles in the world and 98% of electric buses were in China.
Overall, China has reached nine of the 15 quantitative targets its 2015 climate commitments ahead of schedule. Over the past decade, coal has grown from around 70% to 57% of its energy use.
In September 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China would stop funding coal plants overseas. This will probably lead to the cancellation of most of the 65 gigawatts of power coal that Beijing had planned in Asia, about three times the annual emissions of Bangladesh. And unlike the United States, China has also set up a national emissions trading system for the electricity sector, although it has no hard cap on emissions.
When it comes to China's approach to climate change, the problem is not a lack of policy implementation, but rather a lack of political ambition. China's climate policies are admirable for a middle-income country that has only recently escaped the ranks of the poor, but like most countries around the world, it is still not doing enough.
This is evident both in the revised commitments of China presented at the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021 and in its current five-year plan (2021-2025). Both represent patchwork improvements and will make it difficult to keep global warming well below 2 ° C.
For example, China aims to have its carbon dioxide reach a peak before 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060. These targets reflect a Chinese easy tendency in international negotiations to sub- primer so that it can over-deliver. To be consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, China will need to set an emissions cap and advance its peak dates.
Current politics and recent history have also raised concerns that China's use of coal will not decline quickly enough in the 2020s to meet the 1.5 ° C target.
Three times in the past four years, China has responded to an energy shortage or economic downturn by allowing coal production and consumption to increase. In 2020, it added nearly 40 gigawatts of new capacity for coal, roughly the equivalent of the whole coal fleet of Germany , the fourth largest industrial power in the world.
Reasons for cautious optimism
There is still a chance that China will step up its contribution to the fight against climate change.
It should be noted that China is still developing the policies that will guide its approach to climate change over the next decade. The country has issued two documents overall to achieve carbon neutrality and a peak emissions in 2030. During the next year, he plans to publish 30 documents and sectoral regions to guide industries such as steel, cement and transportation.
Most of the solar manufacturing is in China, and the country is a leader in installations.
Two key developments in Glasgow could also spur China to do more.
First, a considerable number of countries have increased their climate commitments, putting more pressure on China.
More than 100 countries have pledged to reduce emissions of methane , a greenhouse gas emissions very powerful, 30% by 2030. India is committed to achieve zero net emissions of carbon by 2070 and, more importantly, has indicated that it potentially get half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. There were also multi-country commitments to end the deforestation, phase out coal and reduce international funding for fossil fuels.
Like any country, China's climate actions are primarily driven by domestic policy considerations. However, over the past three decades, Chinese policy has responded to - and has been shaped by - outside forces, including diplomacy, advocacy, and science exchange.
Developing countries, in particular, can influence China's approach to climate change. Because China has long positioned itself as a leader of the developing world and is sensitive to its international image, it can be difficult for Beijing to resist pressure from other developing countries. The fact that several countries, such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam , have made commitments bolder than expected in Glasgow could prompt Beijing to offer more aggressive targets for controlling emissions.
The second important fact is that the United States and China managed to thaw their relations in Glasgow and laid the groundwork for future cooperation.
China's chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua and US climate chief John Kerry have announced a deal to work together to achieve net zero emissions.
Although there is a debate on whether climate has more competition or cooperation between China and US, it was feared that the hostility between China and the United -United does not derail the talks.
Therefore, it was a welcome relief when, later in the summit, China and the United States, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas, issued a statement jointly stressing their common commitment to fight climate change.
They agreed to establish a "task force on strengthening climate action in the 2020s" and meet in early 2022 to tackle methane emissions. China has also said it will release a national methane action plan. This is important because China has not signed the Global Commitment on methane, and traditionally does not include greenhouse gas non-carbon - about 18% of total emissions China - in its commitments.
Will pressure from developing countries and cooperation between the United States and China be enough to persuade China to take more aggressive action? Only time will tell, but Glasgow may have been the crossroads where China and the rest of the world chose a more sustainable path.