China is now at the forefront of global efforts to address climate change and achieve the aim of a greener world
When the United States decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, it propelled China to the forefront of the global climate debate.
“China has a clear opportunity for global leadership on climate policy,” said Frank Jotzo, professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra.
“China can partner with the large emerging economies like India and Brazil and work closely with the EU,” he told China Daily Asia Weekly.
“Taking a climate leadership role could give China a significantly enhanced role in global cooperation and economic affairs. To be successful, it would require continued strengthening of China’s domestic efforts to move to a low-carbon economy. The economics, social and environmental benefits of this shift to China are clear.”
China has been aggressive in its push for renewable power sources such as wind and solar, but that will not mean an early end to coal or oil as energy sources.
“Even if China is leading the world in renewable-energy generation, it is not enough for their energy needs,” said Alvaro Ruiz-Navajas, a portfolio manager and the sector specialist for energy and materials with BNP Paribas Asset Management in Hong Kong.
Climate: Move to renewables driving China’s energy transformation
He said wind and solar made up around 5 percent of China’s total energy mix in 2016 and this is expected to increase to about 14 percent by 2025.
“Coal will reduce its share of the energy mix, from around 63 percent to 47 percent, with gas, hydro and nuclear making up the difference,” Ruiz-Navajas said.
“So, it is important to bear in mind that while renewables have become increasingly important for China, coal will continue as the backbone of their energy mix for the foreseeable future.”
Despite the US decision, China remains firmly committed to the fight against climate change and international efforts for a greener world.
According to data from Berlin-based Climate Analytics, China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) — at 20.09 percent, compared to the US on 17.89 percent and the EU’s 13.34 percent.
At the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Dalian, in Northeast China’s Liaoning province, on June 27, Wan Gang, minister of science and technology, said China will prioritize green development and focus on clean technology.
A worker retrieves a float at the world’s largest floating solar power plant in a lake in Huainan, East China’s Anhui province, on June 7. The floating solar farm, which can generate 40 megawatts of electricity, was connected to the city’s power grid in May. (AFP)
Investment in innovation is a crucial factor in driving growth, he said, while emphasizing the need for flexible policymaking.
“Technology innovation goes hand-in-hand with innovation in the institutional support arrangements,” Wan said.
At the same time he acknowledged the challenges ahead, and noted: “Over the past two decades, development has boosted our economy, but it has brought about some negative impacts as well, like air pollution.”
Bob Carr, the former Australian foreign minister and director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, believes China is well on its way to solving its pollution problems.
“I think you will start to see real changes in the air and water quality within a generation,” he told China Daily Asia Weekly.
Zhou Xizhou, senior director and head of power, gas, coal and renewables for Asia Pacific at IHS Markit, a global information and analysis group, said: “In China, climate change is not an issue anymore. Everyone accepts the science. The issue now is how to solve the problem.
“There are two issues here,” Zhou said. “One is the smog that engulfs many of China’s big cities. You can see it and taste it. That is an air-quality issue and one that can be sorted at its source.
“The other is climate change, which cannot be solved by one country acting alone because it is an issue that needs a global solution.”
China already leads the world on solar power and wind turbines. It has more hydropower, nuclear power and coal-fired power stations than any country on Earth.
“The push, however, is more to renewables,” Zhou said.
“Ten years ago, 80 percent of China’s power generation was coal. Today it is around a third, but the difference is that these new power stations use ‘clean coal technology’.
“This technology has been around for a long time and has mainly been used in Europe and the US,” he said.
“These power stations use less coal than the older generation coal-fired power stations and generate more electricity.”
The problem with clean coal technology is that it cannot get rid of the carbon problem altogether, Zhou said.
China has set targets to improve the environment in its current five-year economic development plan.
Some of the areas China has targeted for reduced emissions include coal-burning industries; boosting the use of cleaner and the more efficient use of coal; promoting electricity and natural gas in place of coal; and support for wind, solar and bio power.
Premier Li Keqiang, during an official visit to Germany early last month, said China will continue to work steadfastly to implement the commitment of the Paris climate deal and join hands with all parties to tackle climate change.
In a joint press conference on June 1 with his German counterpart Angela Merkel, Li said China should shoulder its international responsibilities and address the challenge of climate change with other countries.
“Combating climate change is a global consensus,” China Daily quoted Li as saying. “With tremendous efforts, China will move toward the 2030 goal step-by-step steadfastly.”
China is still a developing country but it will not step back when it comes to tackling climate change, according to Zhao Ming, associate professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Environment.
“Collaboration and dialogue are the only ways to solve the global environmental problems,” Zhao told China Daily Asia Weekly.
“China has proposed very ambitious plans to reduce emissions, with its energy carbon emissions projected to peak in 2030 and non-fossil fuels in the primary energy mix to reach approximately 20 percent in the same year.
“These goals will not change with the withdrawal of the United States (from the Paris Agreement on climate change), because these are not only in accord with China’s own interests but also with the interests of the world.
“By reducing emissions, China can reduce its reliance on fossil energy, improve energy-utilization efficiency, minimize pollution and improve the ecological environment.”
At the same time, he said, “developing renewable energy and developing a carbon market as well as carbon finance can also promote employment and improve our economic structure”.
“This is the responsibility and commitment of a big country, and it also reflects the foresight and sagacity of its strategy,” said Zhao, who specializes in low-carbon technology and management.
Aiming for zero
The Paris Agreement on climate change was agreed to by 197 countries in December 2015. The accord commits world leaders to keep global warming below 2 C. The agreement’s long-term goal is for net zero emissions.
“China is undergoing an energy transformation,” Shu Yinbiao, chairman of China’s State Grid Corporation, told the World Economic Forum in Dalian. He said traditional fossil fuels should be replaced by clean energy.
State Grid is a Fortune 500 company and one of China’s biggest employers. For seven days, from June 17 to 23, it powered Qinghai province in Northwest China entirely from renewable energy.
China aspires to shift its traditional energy mix, so that renewable energy accounts for 50 percent or more of the grid. Beijing closed its last coal-fired power plant in March, and will invest in electric vehicles to combat environmental pollution and create healthier cities. The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region will not need coal for its heating by the end of the year, according to forecasts.
“It’s a world consensus to realize the transition to clean energy,” said Shu. “It’s an urgent task for China to help build such a world.”
China is creating a new world order in clean tech, according to Alex Molinaroli, chairman and CEO of Johnson Controls, a global diversified technology group.
Technology breakthroughs in areas such as energy storage and energy efficiency are key, and policies should be in place to make every step of recycling profitable, he told the World Economic Forum.
“Sticking to the Paris Agreement is good for growth” in China, said Ruiz-Navajas at BNP Paribas.
“Addressing environmental issues is a way to stabilize growth — and, at the same time, addressing one of the main concerns of their society.”
Additional reporting by Xu Weiwei.