Ray of hope
The China-US Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, released in November as a result of continued in-depth discussion and extensive action from various sectors in both China and the United States, is of great significance. It has not only contributed to the positive outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, but also enhanced confidence that the world can effectively address climate change.
The COP 26 also sent a signal that climate change and the energy transition can be handled in an equitable way, given the commitment of the two sides to the international platform and the UN process on climate change which have fairness and equity as core.
The world has also been encouraged by the two countries' statements in support of accelerating the transition to a global zero-carbon economy. Over the past two years, more than 100 countries and regions have proposed their "zero carbon" or "carbon neutrality "goals, with more than 30 countries issuing formal policy declarations. Mankind is facing an unprecedented crisis, but it is also an unprecedented opportunity to step into a new era of prosperity driven by clean energy.
Both China and the US have made significant and positive progress in their respective domestic policies, and proactive actions from all sectors have laid a solid foundation for bilateral collaboration between the two countries.
Overcoming the climate crisis requires cooperation, especially from the leading economies. Although significant differences exist between China and the US in terms of development stage, energy mix, industrial structure and other macroeconomic indicators such as urbanization rates, the two countries have the potential and advantages to engage in substantive climate collaboration. And their willingness, as shown by the Glasgow declaration, has certainly injected vigor into translating the potential into reality.
There is all-round eagerness to see this cooperation flourishing in the power sector, where both countries have set ambitious targets. The US aims for its power system to be zero-carbon by 2035. China has proposed the construction of a new power system with renewable energy dominating. To achieve these goals, however, both China and the US are facing big challenges. According to the official report by the US Department of Energy, by 2035, the shares in the power system should be 40 percent for solar, 36 percent for wind, 11-13 percent for nuclear, 5-6 percent for hydroelectric and 1 percent for biomass, with nonfossil energy accounting for more than 90 percent of power generation.
In 2020, the US added 15 gigawatts of solar capacity, which is just 3 percent of its power generation. Achieving 40 percent of its power generation from solar power by 2035 will require an average of 30 GW of solar capacity installed per year between now and 2025 and 60 GW per year from 2025 to 2030.
China has proposed that non-fossil energy will account for about 25 percent of its primary energy consumption by 2030, and the total installed capacity of wind and solar power will reach over 1.2 terawatts. It is currently producing renewable energy on a large scale. By 2025, renewable energy will account for more than 50 percent of the total installed capacity. It is expected that renewable energy will account for about two-thirds of China's additional power consumption and more than 50 percent of the additional primary energy consumption, becoming the main source of additional power consumption.
By 2060, the proportion of non-fossil energy consumption in China should reach about 80 percent. But achieving these goals is no doubt going to be a difficult task.
Despite their different resource endowments and stages of development, China and the US share common challenges with regard to decarbonization. These are in many aspects and all of them can be considered as focus areas for cooperation.
Take the power sector as an example. Increasing renewable energy's proportion to 70-80 percent will pose significant pressure and risks to the operation and scheduling flexibility of any power grid; large-scale, long-distance transmission of renewable energy will be a key element needed in both China and the US given their vast size; and the coordination between the supply side and the demand side, the electrification of end-use energy and demand response are also the inevitable means and approaches for the decarbonization of power sector in any geography.
According to the joint statement issued at Glasgow, the Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s has launched a new approach of cooperation, in which "policymakers lead while all stakeholders engage and contribute". It is particularly thrilling to follow, participate and contribute under this new cooperation model, so as to facilitate the strengthening of communication, exchange of best practices and the joint exploration of decarbonization pathways for the future. Upgraded policy measures, technology innovation, and market design will lay the foundation for a zero-carbon world.
Despite intensified competition, win-win cooperation is not only an inevitable way for mankind to cope with the climate crisis, but also inevitable to benefit from technological progress and the new industrial revolution, and to achieve a better and more equitable society. China is demonstrating a brand-new pathway in which its experience in moving from poverty eradication to common prosperity and carbon neutrality will be valuable for less developed and vulnerable countries. The new round of prosperity led by clean energy will fundamentally improve human production in a cleaner and smarter way, completely overturning the sources and ways of human energy use. Both China and the US are expected to lead this trend through comprehensive and in-depth cooperation on climate change.
The author is managing director and chief representative at the RMI China. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.
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