#China – Failing #Climate leadershipSource: Eureporter
The conference comes fast on the heels of a recent IPCC report released earlier this month that warned of dire and irreversible climate change by 2030 unless world governments act now to eliminate coal and invest an estimated $2.4 trillion USD a year in green technologies. Patricia Espinosa, the UN climate change head, has put the need for success at the conference in equally dire terms. She remarked that success at COP24 means fully implementing the Paris agreement because time is simply running out.
But four years on from the signing of the Paris agreement, it’s becoming evident that the biggest obstacle in achieving its lofty objectives is China. While the US decided to pull out of the pact, a coalition of industry leaders and states has been making headway in cutting emissions – and the results speak for themselves: the US is on track to cut CO2 emissions by 17%.
Not the same thing can be said about China. After the US announced it would terminate its membership of the Paris agreement, Beijing was quick to brand itself as a global leader committed to fighting climate change through green policymaking. But since 2015, China’s carbon emissions have risen, as the government hesitates to limit coal use in a bid to protect economic growth.
Even if American obstinacy over climate change will certainly impede efforts to reduce emissions, policymakers should not lose track of the fact that China now releases more carbon dioxide into the air than both the US and Europe combined. In fact, many have correctly pointed out that winning the battle with CO2 emissions in the West will not stave off the disastrous consequences of climate change. The change has to come from China, whose emissions per unit of GDP are still double of what they are in the EU or the US.
Beijing has been investing heavily in renewables – last year, for every dollar spent in the United States on alternative energy, China spent 3. Most of that money went into building solar capacity, of which 53GW were installed last year. Optimists will further point to the fact that China has imposed limits on coal use, and established “no-coal-zones” throughout the country. But coal still accounts for over 60% of China’s energy consumption, and there are no policy moves in the works to drastically challenge the country’s energy mix.
Instead, Beijing is building more coal plants and its coal output and emissions are forecasted to have grown since last year. Indeed, in the first three months of 2018, the country released 4% more carbon dioxide than it did at the same time in 2017, putting it on track to clock in a 5% year-on-year increase in emissions. Similarly, coal production increased 5.1% in the first three quarters of 2018, to a massive 2.59 billion tons.
In case you’re wondering where all that coal will go, the answer is simple: China is building coal power plants at rapid clip. Coalswarm, an advocacy group, says that according to satellite imagery and permit approvals for coal-fired power units issued to provincial governments between 2014 and 2016, it looks like China will add 259 GW of coal-powered energy to its electrical grid in the years to come. That’s five times more than the solar panels installed last year.
Making matters worse, China decided in October to render toothless its blanket winter production cuts on heavy industry, such as steel, aluminium and cement. Enacted last year to fight worsening air pollution in its major cities – responsible for over a million premature deaths a year – the so-called “2+26” policy targeting Beijing, Tianjin and 26 surrounding cities, managed to reduce PM 2.5 levels by 33% in the last quarter of 2017. But the plan also resulted in economic losses, which have proven to be too onerous for China’s policymakers.
As part of this year’s finalized anti-pollution plan, the Chinese government is still paying lip service to the “2+26” policy – but is placing the onus on provincial governments to impose cuts on heavy industrial output, as opposed to mandating countrywide targets. This is an important difference. By shifting responsibility to the provinces, China is risking a loss in oversight over its anti-pollution initiatives. In fact, it already looks like some of its regions have been caught ‘faking’ their production cuts. Just this month, China’s Ministry of Environment and Ecology has accused the regions of Henan, Yunnan, and Guangxi of all submitting false pollution rectifications.
So, with coal consumption climbing and emissions following in lockstep, how can anyone take seriously China’s claims to actively fight climate change? The IPCC has made it clear that drastic changes are required to prevent disastrous – or frankly apocalyptic – global warming within 12 years. The country’s current levels of investment into renewables fall abysmally short of what’s needed.
If Beijing continues to feed its coal industry and nurture carbon emissions, the IPCC’s end times prediction will become all too real.