Tar­gets ac­quired

The World of Chinese - - COVER STORY -

It’s not easy to pin down ex­actly what came out of the re­cent G20 meet­ing in Hangzhou; most head­lines in Chi­nese media merely re­it­er­ated China’s pride in host­ing the event and as­serted the im­por­tance of on­go­ing in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion. The one key achieve­ment seemed to be that the US and China had signed the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change.

Most of the ne­go­ti­a­tions had of course al­ready oc­curred be­hind the scenes, but that didn’t de­tract from the sig­nif­i­cance of this mile­stone: the world’s two largest emit­ters were on board. Hav­ing these two play­ers in­volved was a big boost, as the agree­ment ba­si­cally pushes these coun­tries to keep global cli­mate change to less than 2 de­grees higher than pre-in­dus­trial times, while shoot­ing for just 1.5 de­grees.

Sure enough, with In­dia and a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of the EU sign­ing on in Oc­to­ber, the agree­ment reached its tar­get and came into force on Novem­ber 4.

While that all sounds well and good, it doesn’t ex­plain how these coun­tries are re­duc­ing their car­bon foot­print.

Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Pro­grams at WWF China, Dr. Li Lin, points out that in June of last year, China signed on to some of the most sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ments that are cur­rently in play, due to be reached by 2030. These in­cluded hav­ing China reach its peak emis­sions in 2030 or sooner as well as re­duc­ing the amount of car­bon emis­sions to 65 per­cent of what they were in 2005, per unit of GDP (which would rep­re­sent a re­duc­tion of 60 per­cent).

This would in­clude bump­ing up China’s pro­por­tion of non-fos­sil fu­els in the en­ergy mix to 20 per­cent, and adding 4.5 bil­lion cu­bic me­ters of for­est stock com­pared to 2005 lev­els.

Nat­u­rally, how­ever, cir­cum­stances in China are sub­ject to change, par­tic­u­larly given the cur­rent growth slow­down. Li points out that this has pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ef­fects in terms of re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions. “In the short term, to some ex­tent, the eco­nomic slow­down makes it eas­ier. For in­stance, coal con­sump­tion has been de­clin­ing since 2014,” she says. “This makes car­bon emis­sion re­duc­tion tar­gets eas­ier to achieve, but there are eco­nomic growth im­per­a­tives that push some re­gions or sec­tors to in­vest in un­sus­tain­able projects to stim­u­late GDP growth in

the short term but re­sult in dis­as­ter in the long term, such as coal or chem­i­cal in­dus­tries.” So what is the an­swer? “The only true so­lu­tion which can help China reach those com­mit­ments is en­ergy tran­si­tion, which re­lies on up­grad­ing in­dus­tries and tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tion,” Li says.

Be­fore look­ing at the progress how­ever, it’s im­por­tant to note there are of course plenty of caveats re­gard­ing China’s en­ergy pro­duc­tion, which still re­lies heav­ily on coal. In April, au­thor­i­ties halted ap­provals on new coal projects, sidelin­ing many un­til 2018, but then in July Green­peace claimed that, on av­er­age, one was still being opened each week and this would con­tinue un­til 2020, be­cause the coal projects were al­ready in the works or they had found loop­holes. Green­peace said that open­ing these ex­cess plants amounted to a waste of a tril­lion RMB due to over­ca­pac­ity. Wastage was a key theme of an ear­lier The New York Times re­port which found many lo­cal gov­ern­ments were in­vest­ing in new coal plants as they were an at­trac­tive form of rev­enue, in part due to tax ben­e­fits.

That being said, there are pos­i­tive signs in a shift to­ward more sus­tain­able en­ergy op­tions. A WWF re­port, re­leased in Oc­to­ber, ti­tled “15 Sig­nals: Ev­i­dence the En­ergy Tran­si­tion is Un­der­way”, points out that coal con­sump­tion is still de­clin­ing, hav­ing dropped by a mas­sive 9.7 per­cent in the first half of 2016. So even though China may or may not be boost­ing the num­bers of coal plants, ac­tual con­sump­tion ap­pears to be de­creas­ing.

The re­port also found that world­wide, in 2015, re­new­able en­ergy em­ploy­ment reached a peak of 8.1 mil­lion jobs, of which a mas­sive 43 per­cent, or 3.52 mil­lion jobs, were based in China. The re­port also states that in 2015, China was also the lead­ing in­vestor in re­new­able en­ergy, bump­ing up its in­vest­ment by 17 per­cent to 103 bil­lion USD that year.

Per­haps the most im­por­tant fig­ure in­cluded in the re­port re­lates to to­tal emis­sions world­wide. Draw­ing upon In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency (IEA) fig­ures, the WWF re­port states that coal power emis­sions world­wide plateaued for the sec­ond year in a row, de­spite global growth con­tin­u­ing. The IEA ex­plains this by cit­ing im­prove­ments in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, a spur in re­new­ables led by wind as well as the de­cline in coal use by the two big­gest world emit­ters in the world. In De­cem­ber 2015, the IEA stated, “Fol­low­ing more than a decade of ag­gres­sive growth, global coal de­mand has stalled,” in its an­nual coal re­port, adding that the re­port had “sharply low­ered its five-year global coal de­mand growth fore­cast in re­flec­tion of eco­nomic re­struc­tur­ing in China, which rep­re­sents half of global coal con­sump­tion.”

Aside from at­tempt­ing to rein in the coal in­dus­try, au­thor­i­ties have in­sti­tuted a num­ber of poli­cies that at­tempt to re­duce emis­sions. These range from man­dated im­prove­ments to coal fa­cil­i­ties, through to a com­mit­ment in 2010 to es­tab­lish five prov­inces and eight ci­ties as low-car­bon pi­lot projects, which was then boosted to six prov­inces and 36 ci­ties in 2012. These ci­ties and prov­inces are re­quired to make plans to re­duce car­bon emis­sions and pro­mote low-car­bon life­styles. In ad­di­tion, 11 prov­inces have set a spe­cific year which will be their peak year for emis­sions.

Ci­ties have also re­ceived re­wards for estab­lish­ing “green build­ing” guide­lines, and per­haps the most vis­i­ble at­tempts to re­duce emis­sions have come in the trans­port sec­tor. In ad­di­tion to the traf­fic con­trols which kick in when smog reaches crit­i­cal lev­els in Beijing, other trans­port re­stric­tions and re­forms have been geared to­ward re­duc­ing emis­sions long-term. Elec­tric buses have been rolled out in many ci­ties, and poli­cies to fos­ter elec­tric ve­hi­cles are also being im­ple­mented.

In Jan­uary, the first moves to­ward estab­lish­ing a car­bon-trad­ing sys­tem were agreed upon, with the scheme planned for introduction in the lat­ter half of 2017. Though the plans are still being for­mu­lated, the in­tent is to in­clude six key in­dus­tries rang­ing from coal to ce­ment, iron and steel, while in­cor­po­rat­ing lessons learned from pi­lot projects.

The ex­tent to which any given pol­icy will con­trib­ute to the over­all re­duc­tion in emis­sions will un­doubt­edly be up for de­bate over the com­ing years, but the sheer num­ber of poli­cies being con­sid­ered would in­di­cate that China cer­tainly has the will to re­duce emis­sions. As for a way, only time will tell. - DAVID DAW­SON


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