China Greenhouse Gases May have Already Peaked
March 7, 2016
Following the US/China climate agreement, I created this much under-viewed video, on why China is highly motivated to reduce Greenhouse gases sooner, rather than later. Not the first time, but turns out, might have been quite prescient.
In November 2014, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping shook hands on a historic agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions in both countries. The United States pledged to bring national emissions at least 26 percent below their 2005 levels, while China vowed to put a peak on its growing carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030. These pledges would go on to become part of each country’s national commitments for the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was adopted during the United Nations’s climate conference in December.
It seemed an ambitious set of targets at the time, particularly for China, which overtook the United States as the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter in 2007. Yet experts are now saying that achieving its goal is not only possible for China — the country may have already done so by the time the climate deal was made.
A new paper, released Sunday night by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, argues that a changing economic and energy landscape in China will help the nation’s emissions to peak by 2025 at the latest — if it didn’t already happen in 2014. The report, which will be published in the journal Climate Policy later this month, was released just two days after the Chinese government announced it would cap its annual energy consumption at 5 billion metric tons of standard coal equivalent by 2020 and reduce its carbon dioxide intensity by 18 percent between now and then.
“We’re reaching a point in much of China where the cities have been built, the roads have been built, a lot of the demand for cement and steel is essentially slowing,” said Joanna Lewis, an associate professor of science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University and an expert on China’s energy landscape, who was not involved with the new paper. “You can’t build indefinitely.”
Below, one of the new paper’s authors, Lord Nicholas Stern, in a 2013 interview, in San Francisco. Also Vox, on China’s war against coal.
The most important global warming story over the past two years has arguably been China’s struggle to suppress its once-insatiable appetite for coal.
Lately, those efforts have begun paying off. Recent data suggests that China’s carbon dioxide emissions fell in 2015, driven by a sharp drop in coal use. There’s always plenty of uncertainty with China’s energy stats, but this shift does look significant:
As I’ve written before, a sluggish economy can explain part of this dip — but not all. China is making a long-term transition away from heavy industry. The central government is trying to clamp down on air pollution and setting aggressive targets for clean energy sources like nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar. There’s a major push to green the economy and hit peak CO2 emissions by (or before) 2030.
And yet… with China, nothing’s ever that simple. Over the past year, as a recent report from Greenpeace details, some of China’s regulatory agencies have also approved permits for 210 brand-new coal plants across the country — which, if built, would make it harder for the country to meet its climate targets. Many of these plants are being urged on by coal-mining provinces that have been hit hard economically of late.
These 210 new coal plants aren’t (yet) guaranteed to be built. In fact, key officials in Beijing are lobbying to cancel many of them. But the controversy around the plants helps illustrate just how tricky it will be to clean up the world’s largest CO2 polluter. The government is trying to throttle back on fossil fuels — but it also has to be mindful of high unemployment and potential unrest in its key coal regions.