By Hu Angang | China Daily Global 12/03/2019 page13
Hu Angang is dean of the Institute for Contemporary China Studies and professor of School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University.
The 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference, being held in Madrid from Dec 2 to 13, once again puts the spotlight on the climate challenge that the world faces. Especially since the United States has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, the international community is now looking to China to exert global leadership by cooperating with major economies such as the European Union and Japan to ensure the targets agreed in Paris are met.
Recently, Nature Communications published a study assessing China's performance in implementing the Paris Agreement. The results show that China is expected to reach its Paris Agreement target ahead of schedule, as its carbon emissions will peak before 2030.
The reduction of the intensity and total amount of carbon emissions from China is being done in three stages. The first stage is the continuous reduction of carbon emissions per unit of GDP, to reduce the growth rate of carbon emissions. The second stage is zero growth in carbon emissions (less than 0.5 percent), and the third stage is absolute emissions reduction, meaning that the total carbon emissions will decline.
Two important indicators, the energy consumption per unit of GDP and carbon emissions per unit of GDP, have been incorporated as binding indicators in the 11th, 12th, and 13th five-year plans, which sent strong signals that governments at all levels have to shoulder the responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save energy, and promote the development and application of clean energy. The strong motivation and effective measures activated by these five-year plans have delivered better-than-expected results, fully reflecting the strong governance capacity of the Chinese government. It can be said that the Chinese government has not only set clear goals, but also made substantial achievements, because China is able to achieve political consensus and mobilize effective actions from the whole society, which makes impossible missions possible. And by doing it as promised, China has won a solid reputation both at home and abroad.
What concerns the international community now is whether China can realize the absolute reduction of its carbon emissions in advance?
Our comprehensive research shows that during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2020-25), China can enter the third stage of absolute emissions reduction. In this stage, a complete decoupling of economic growth from carbon emissions can be attained. China already possesses the basic conditions and is implementing important measures to realize the goal.
First, energy demand will decline as China transforms into a modern service economy. The proportion of industrial added value in GDP will continue to fall from 34 percent in 2018 to 25.5 percent in 2030. This will lead to a remarkable cutback of the proportion of industrial energy consumption, which is already occurring, from 72.5 percent in 2010 to 65.7 percent in 2017, a decrease of 6.8 percentage points. It is expected that this figure will decline below 60 percent in 2025. Therefore, a lower growth rate of total energy demand and carbon emissions is foreseeable.
Second, as China's economy has entered a stage of medium-speed growth, not only has the elasticity of energy demand declined, but also the elasticity of coal demand, and that of carbon emissions demand is decreasing.
Third, China is developing rapidly in terms of green energy. Coal production and consumption have plunged, with coal's proportion in energy consumption falling from 70.2 percent in 2011 to 59 percent in 2018, and the proportion of green energy consumption in the same period increased from 13.0 percent to 22.1 percent. Green energy consumption is projected to increase to more than 35 percent by 2030. Additionally, the installed capacity of China's renewable energy increased from 370 million kilowatts in 2013 to 730 million kilowatts in 2018.
Fourth, China has established the world's largest carbon trading market, which provides a strong incentive for the development of green energy. By the end of 2018, the total volume of carbon emissions traded was close to 800 million tons, the value of which was more than 11 billion yuan ($1.6 billion). Relevant State departments have issued guidelines on carbon accounting reports for 24 industries and designated 13 national standards, compulsively requiring large national energy consumers (industry, the electricity sector, transportation sector, and large and medium-sized cities) to enter the carbon trading market and encouraging voluntary accession to the market.
Climate change is one of the major challenges facing all countries and is also one of the major issues for China's development. As the United Nations Environment Program reports, if the emissions of greenhouse gases don't decrease 7 percent per year from 2020 to 2030, the world will lose the chance of realizing the goal of controlling the temperature rise to below 1.5 degree Celsius.
China has the advantage of its strong national governance to achieve its emissions reduction goals. It will set clear goals and detail concrete actions to reduce its greenhouse emissions during the 14th Five-Year Plan. China will also continue to set the reduction rate of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP as an obligatory national target. The plan will encourage China's developed regions to take actions to reduce their absolute emissions, and industries, especially the energy industry, will be required to take actions to become carbon neutral. Carbon dioxide emissions reduction will be implemented in the whole process of energy production, energy storage and energy consumption.
The Chinese government has announced that China will continue to participate in global climate change governance. At the same time, China will strengthen South-South cooperation and continue to offer support and help for other developing countries. China is also participating in global climate change governance more positively and is strengthening cooperation with the international society.
Therefore, China is on course to attain the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, which means it will have explored a low-carbon path that others can follow.