China’s carbon emissions are huge and growing, dwarfing those of other countries.
Experts agree that without major reductions in Chinese emissions, the world cannot win the fight against climate change.
In 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country will aim to reach their highest point before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060.
His statement has now been confirmed as China’s official stance ahead of the COP26 world climate summit in Glasgow.
But China did not say exactly how these goals will be achieved.
While all countries face problems to reduce emissions, China is facing the biggest challenge.
Per person, China’s emissions are about half that of the United States, but its huge population of 1.4 billion and explosive economic growth has pushed it far ahead of any other country in its overall emissions.
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China became the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide in 2006 and is now responsible for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
It is expected to undergo a close scrutiny at the COP26 summit on its commitments to reduce them.
Along with all the other signatories to the Paris Agreement in 2015, China agreed to make changes to try to keep global warming at 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels and “well below” 2 °. C.
China strengthened its commitments in 2020, but Climate Action Tracker, an international group of scientists and policymakers, says its current actions to achieve that goal are “highly insufficient”.
Transition from coal
Reducing China’s emissions is achievable, according to many experts, but will require radical change.
Coal has been the country’s main source of energy for decades.
President Xi says China will “gradually reduce” coal use from 2026 – and not build new coal projects overseas – but some governments and activists say the plans aren’t going far enough.
Researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing says China will have to stop using coal completely for electricity generation by 2050, to be replaced by nuclear and renewable energy production.
And far from shutting down coal-fired power plants, China is currently building new ones in more than 60 locations across the country, with many sites having more than one plant.
New stations are generally active for 30 to 40 years, so China will have to reduce the capacity of newer plants and close old ones if it is to cut emissions, says researcher Philippe Ciais of the Institute of Environmental and Climate Sciences in China. Paris. .
It may be possible to modify some to capture emissions, but the technology to do so on a large scale is still under development and many plants will have to pay for themselves after minimal use.
China claims it has the right to do what Western countries have done in the past, releasing carbon dioxide in the process of developing its economy and reducing poverty.
In the short term, Beijing has ordered coal mines to increase production to avoid power shortages this coming winter. Rising heavy industry demand in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to shortages in several regions of the country in recent weeks.
But China is switching to green energy
Tsinghua University researchers say 90% of the energy should come from nuclear and renewable energy by 2050.
To achieve this, China’s lead in producing green technology, such as large-scale solar panels and batteries, could be of great help.
China first adopted green technologies as a means of tackling air pollution, a serious problem for many cities.
But the government also believes they have enormous economic potential, providing jobs and income for millions of Chinese, as well as reducing China’s dependence on foreign oil and gas.
“China is already leading the global energy transition,” says Yue Cao of the Overseas Development Institute. “One of the reasons we are able to implement ever cheaper green technologies is China.”
China generates more solar energy than any other country. It might not be that impressive given China’s huge population, but it’s a sign of where the country is heading.
Wind power installations in China were more than three times that of any other country in 2020.
China says the percentage of its energy generated from non-fossil fuel sources is expected to be 25% by 2030, and many observers expect it to hit the target early.
China ranks seventh in the world for its share of electric car sales, but given its huge size, China makes and buys more electric cars than any other country by a sizeable margin.
Currently, around one in 20 cars purchased in China is electric.
By 2035, Chinese officials and auto industry representatives predict that nearly all new vehicles sold in China will be fully electric or hybrid.
Calculating how much the switch to electric vehicles reduces emissions is not straightforward, particularly when considering the sources of production and charging.
But studies suggest that lifetime emissions from electric vehicles are generally lower than those of petrol and diesel equivalents.
This is important because transportation is responsible for about a quarter of the carbon emissions from fuel combustion, with road vehicles being the largest emitters.
China will also produce batteries with double the capacity of those produced by the rest of the world combined by 2025.
Observers say it will allow for the storage and release of energy from renewable sources on a previously impossible scale.
The land of China is getting greener
Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions does not mean that China will stop producing emissions.
It means that China will cut emissions as much as possible and absorb what’s left, through a combination of different approaches.
Increasing the area of land covered by vegetation will help, as plants absorb carbon dioxide.
Here, too, there is encouraging news. China is always greener at a faster rate than any other country, largely thanks to its forestry programs aimed at reducing soil erosion and pollution.
It is also partly the result of replanting fields to produce more than one crop per year, which keeps the land covered in vegetation for longer.
The world needs China to be successful.
“Unless China decarbonises, we will not beat climate change,” says Professor David Tyfield of the Lancaster Environment Center.
China has some great advantages, most notably its ability to stick to long-term strategies and mobilize large-scale investment.
The Chinese authorities are facing a colossal task. What happens next couldn’t be more important.
- Climate change
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