Is Chinese economic growth going to wreck the planet’s climate? | Politics News | SupChina

Is Chinese economic growth going to wreck the planet’s climate?

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Is China going to fail to meet its Paris Agreement goals?

A new analysis from Greenpeace suggests that the answer is, unfortunately, yes. Based on the Chinese government’s own data on coal, oil, and natural gas demand, as well as cement production, Greenpeace researchers concluded that “China’s CO2 emissions went up 4.0% on the first quarter, after a 2% increase in 2017.” Some analysts estimate that China is even on track this year for the quickest increase in carbon emissions since 2011.

Then, in the “Time to panic?” section of the report, the authors write:

“If China’s emissions are indeed going back to rapid growth, it means that the rest of the world would have to run just to stay in place — keep global emissions from increasing. The task of achieving a rapid and sustained decline in global emissions would become essentially impossible.”

It’s become a bit of a cliché to overstate China’s importance to many world issues — North Korea comes to mind — but with climate change, the Chinese government’s policies are indeed an overwhelmingly decisive factor. To the Chinese, this has always felt deeply unfair, as the developed countries criticizing China got to enjoy unfettered industrialization many decades ago. But the climate doesn’t care where the emissions came from, it’s just going to keep on warming more rapidly as long as emissions never peak.

  • “China is the one that determines in the end whether global emissions will peak soon or not,” Niklas Höhne, a partner at the New Climate Institute, told the Financial Times (paywall).
  • In order to make its emissions peak before 2030 and meet Paris Agreement goals, China pledged to make “changes to its industrial structure,” the FT says.
  • But “the way they are growing is not by retooling the economy but by going back to the old playbook of just building lots of stuff,” according to Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst for Greenpeace.
  • Clean energy is struggling to offset the increased power demand that is being filled by coal and other fossil fuels, Greenpeace says. Power demand “increased 6.7% in 2017 and 9% in the first four months of 2018,” but even China’s world-leading rate of clean energy installation in 2017 was only “enough to cover power demand growth up to 3% per year.”

One good sign in the news: Beijing is upping the wholesale price (paywall) of natural gas to improve market signals, and admitting that “one-size-fits-all” environmental policies for the country may have been a bit “inefficient.” Perhaps by this coming winter, we will see a less chaotic, and more effective, shift away from coal than last year.

Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

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