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Is China Doing Enough To Tackle The Growing Threat of Climate Change?


China is the annual producer of 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases. After facing a new wave of international pressure, President Xi Jinping has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2060. However, as the leading country in production of energy-based carbon dioxide, the question arises: can China be doing more to tackle the growing threat of climate change?

Whilst a set of goals have been laid out to advance China’s fight against climate change, many question whether these are ambitious enough. China launched a five year development plan earlier this year, which entailed administering a carbon tax and looking at ways to implement new green technologies. This plan is expected to have a knock on effect on the Chinese supply chain.

What is China currently doing to tackle climate change?

They are expanding carbon markets, as well as solar and wind power generators. Shenzhen, a central economic zone, is integrating technologies in sewage treatment and ecological restoration.

Taiyuan, one of the leading industrial cities in China, is also focused on manufacturing technologies which can target water and air pollution. China is also collaborating with the U.S to ensure the deployment of low-emissions transportation, as well as reducing emissions from coal.

China faces multiple barriers in their endeavours against climate change, due to their overwhelming carbon debt. Many of China’s corporations still run on coal-fired power and are not yet ready to transition to renewables. Reducing to net-zero emissions will not only impact the coal industry, but steel, mining, petrochemicals and textiles as well. China also has a considerable international environmental impact to reverse, due to their deforestation in other countries to acquire minerals and timber.

For centuries, coal consumption has been a primary reason for China’s prodigious economic growth. In 2018, roughly 50.5% of world coal consumption was by China, making them the largest consumer of coal. Reducing coal usage would mean altering economic activity to other sectors and could hinder an industry that has always been conducive to China’s financial success.

World Coal Consumption (2018). Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy

Nevertheless, reducing coal usage remains a goal for the government, as it is vital to slow the impact of climate change. However, President Xi Jinping has stated that coal consumption is expected to reach a peak in 2025 and will only fall thereafter. Many question whether the damage done by the coal industry is irreversible.

The COVID-19 pandemic also caused a surprising peak in emissions in 2020, where the production of some key industrial materials such as steel, cement, and aluminium surged by 4%. Total energy use also grew by 2.2%, due to the desire to boost energy-intensive sectors. The pandemic serves as yet another setback in China’s efforts to tackle climate change.

Final thoughts

The fight against climate change will likely have a significant, positive financial impact on China. They can use their position as a Centre for global investment to be a representative of green technology and renewable resources. China has the potential to lead in the development of carbon-free technology, this would be a major step in expanding and cementing their influence. This will, in turn, motivate other countries in Central Asia and beyond to play their part and work towards implementing renewable energy.

With the Cop26 summit mere months away, it is evident that China is going to need a greater push to act on their goals. They still require funds ranging from a whopping RMB 40.3 trillion, up to 123.4 trillion to finance the transition to a greener society.

Although China’s efforts to tackle climate change are overwhelmed by their outstanding debt, the five year roadmap reveals a distinct plan which could be the first of many steps towards implementing carbon-free technologies.

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