Home / China / World

Green credentials power up global climate change talks

By Fu Jing | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2014-11-30 15:33

China is taking the lead in trying to push the world to a planet-saving consensus

Editor's note: In the run-up to the crucial climate change conference in Paris next year, China Daily European Weekly will run a series of reports on the progress being made.

Deng Xiaoping has been called the architect of China's reform and opening-up drive since the late 1970s. And President Xi Jinping has recently been hailed as "the new architect" because of his resolute efforts to transform the country.

They consist of extending market-oriented reform, strengthening the rule of law, an uncompromising approach to corruption and going all out to advance the Silk Road initiative to connect Asia and Europe. Those efforts have been in development since late 2012, when he was elected as top leader of the Communist Party of China.

And now, as the world makes efforts to reach a deal in Paris in a year from now on carbon emissions control between 2020 and 2030, China's leadership has again nailed its green colors to the mast, with impressive climate change and energy targets and policies announced in November.

Observers say China's new efforts in improving energy efficiency, increasing the use of renewable energy, limiting the burning of coal and increasing green aid to poor and developing countries are highly encouraging and even groundbreaking.

On Nov 12, the world's biggest carbon emitters, China and the United States, made public a joint agreement on climate change in which Xi and President Barack Obama reaffirmed the importance of working more closely together on climate change, and committed to concluding an ambitious agreement next year that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in Paris.

In the announcement, Xi and Obama outlined which actions their countries would take on climate change from 2020 on, recognizing that all this is part of a longer-term effort to shift to low-carbon economies, with a goal of limiting the temperature increase to within 2 C by 2100.

By 2025 the US plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below their level in 2005, and by 2030 China plans for its CO2 emissions peak to be reached, the announcement said.

China also plans to raise the proportion of non-fossil fuels used in primary energy consumption to about 20 percent by 2030. The targets are flexible, both sides saying they plan to continue to work to raise the bar over time.

Given that the European Union has announced a target of cutting carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 from their 1990 base, China and the US expect that by announcing their targets they can inject more momentum into global climate negotiations, encouraging other countries to come up with ambitious targets, preferably before April.

Xi and Obama are said to have resolved to work closely over the coming year to clear impediments to the talks in Paris next year.

China and the US have pledged to take action on carbon capture, efficient storage and use of energy, forests, industrial boilers, management of data on greenhouse gases and smart grids.

On Nov 19, shortly after Xi pledged at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, that China would join global efforts to increase energy efficiency and tackle climate change, the Chinese government issued a list of targets for its future energy strategy for the coming six years as the country looks to modernize its energy structure.

The Energy Development Strategy Action Plan (2014-2020) includes a cap on annual primary energy consumption of 4.8 billion tons of the standard coal equivalent until 2020. This means annual growth in the consumption of primary energy must be no higher than 3.5 percent over the next six years, when the economy is expected to grow 7 percent a year.

Annual coal consumption will be held below 4.2 billion tons until 2020, 16.3 percent more than the 3.6 billion tons burned last year. The proportion of coal in the total energy mix will be cut to 62 percent by 2020 and that of natural gas will rise to above 10 percent.

Because of serious air pollution, Beijing, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta are being required to rein in coal consumption. Also, under the plan, the proportion of non-fossil fuels in the total primary energy mix will rise to 15 percent by 2020 from 9.8 percent last year.

By 2030, installed capacity of hydropower is expected to be 350 gigawatts, wind power 200 gW and solar power 100 gW. Energy self-sufficiency is projected to rise to about 85 percent.

Steivan Defilla, director of the Energy Charter Secretariat in Brussels, says China's energy plan demonstrates its determination to push ahead with changes that characterize the energy industry worldwide.

"The choices China is making reflect the need to reconcile taking decisive steps with being able to reach goals that are set," Defilla says. Care needs to be taken that targets are not too ambitious, he says.

The measures China is taking include improving energy efficiency and producing more cleaner energy.

"This gives China the chance to gain further experience in developing the use of these new energy forms. This is especially important where new technologies are being developed and their cost can be sharply reduced by disseminating them. So this mix of measures is well chosen. "

With renewable energy, Defilla says, China aspires to world leadership, and it has the biggest reserve of renewable energy, but also the highest annual rate of growth in installed capacity.

China is clearly among the world leaders on climate change negotiations, those having set their targets before the United Nations climate change conference in Lima, Peru, from Dec 1 to Dec 12.

"The early announcement of these targets enables the Lima conference to be in a better position to lay out the main points to be agreed upon in Paris next year," Defilla says.

Georg Zachmann, research fellow on energy policies of the think tank Bruegel in Brussels, welcomed China's 2020 energy plan but says the country will rely on coal for a long time. Consumption in China will rise 50 percent by 2040, he says.

China and the US are crucial to a global deal on climate change, Zachmann says, because without them such a deal would be impossible.

"And without a global deal there will be no decarbonization. The US-China climate deal is in principle the most important breakthrough in international climate negotiations in years. China accepts some responsibility for global climate change, and the US cannot hide behind China anymore."

In essence the US-China deal opens the door to global agreement, with hopefully more ambitious and credible commitments, Zachmann says.

Isbrand Ho, European director of the company BYD, China's leading electric vehicle maker, says the agreement the presidents of China and the US signed will further stimulate the development of zero- or low-emission vehicles, essential to improving air quality in cities.

BYD is at the forefront of these developments, and its proven battery technology is a world leader in providing long-range and reliable 100 percent electric vehicles, Ho says.

"Given this background, it is surely the case that BYD and other qualified Chinese makers should be given easy access to world markets seeking a solution to this common problem."

In some cases Chinese and Western makers can collaborate with each other to introduce the new technology in the fastest and most effective way possible, Ho says.

Dennis Pamlin, founder of 21st Century New Frontiers in Sweden, says the deal between China and the US is a great step toward a low-carbon society.

"The fact that China and the US are presenting this together is not only positive as a symbolic gesture, it provides a historic signal to the solution providers around the world that the future will see a historic shift when it comes to investment flows."

Alex Kirby, a retired BBC environment reporter, says the China-US agreement is highly encouraging.

"But, as usual, the devil is in the details and particularly in how far Obama will be able to deliver what he has offered."

Kirby has warned that Obama's hand was weakened in the recent mid-term congressional elections, and if he now fails to do what he has said he will do, China's leaders will be awkwardly exposed.

"But if both Beijing and Washington can deliver, this will be a serious step forward. It is especially hopeful coming just a week after India announced that it plans to double coal production by 2020."

Liu Jia in Brussels contributed to this story.

Editor's picks
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349