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China Is Set To Take A Massive Leap Forward
Chinese emissions could peak this year!
China is the climate elephant in the room. It is responsible for 29.2% of the world’s annual emissions, giving it the unwanted title of the most polluting nation on Earth. Not only that, it emits more than twice the emissions of the number two spot held by the USA. If you want to save the world from the horrors of our self-made climate catastrophe, you need to tackle China head-on. Over the past few years, there has been mounting international worry about how on Earth the global community can hold China to account. The new superpower has a history of being unsympathetic to the concerns of the rest of the globe and has a strong self-serving tendency that makes challenging China’s rapidly growing emissions near impossible. However, recent analysis by Carbon Brief has indicated that China might be doing it all by itself. But is it enough?
Carbon Brief is globally renowned for their insightful and exquisitely researched climate reports and analysis. The spheres of climate policy, technology and action all pay attention to and act on their reports. Their latest is an analysis of China’s future emissions, and it has caught many eyes. It considered everything from how the Chinese economy is shifting to climate policy, changes in renewable availability and the progress of renewable projects. All in all, the analysis found that China’s emissions should peak this year and decrease next year. This represents a massive leap forward, as many experts weren’t expecting China to meet this milestone for years to come.
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But, how? Well, the analysis found three crucial areas of influence pushing down China’s emissions, namely the economy, China’s burgeoning technology industry, and China’s shifting industrial and political interests. Let me explain.
Let’s start with the economy. The Chinese state has prioritised rapid economic growth over the past twenty years. It has used massive public projects, substantial government incentives, and interjection to stave off financial crises and keep the economy ticking upwards. Right now, China is facing a vast property crisis, with the property and construction markets appearing to be ready to burst. Thankfully, the Chinese state isn’t intervening too much, and its real-estate sector is experiencing a slump. This, in turn, has led to a steep decline in demand for carbon-intensive steel and cement, of which China is one of the largest consumers on Earth. As such, this real-estate slowdown is set to significantly reduce China’s overall emissions.
This has been enhanced by China’s slow economic growth after Covid-19. After economic shocks, like that of 2008, the Chinese state tends to do several rounds of significant infrastructure expansion to boost its economy. But, it appears they simply don’t need to do that this time, as the economy is growing just enough to not require such an injection.
Over the past few years, there has also been a vast amount of foreign and domestic investment in manufacturing. In particular, China’s solar, wind, battery and EV manufacturers have had billions poured into them, and their exports have now become staples of many trading partners such as the US and EU. Not only has this investment helped China’s economy grow during these tough times, but the money it brings in through exports also bolsters its economy, and the goods these rapidly growing industries sell domestically are already dramatically reducing the country’s carbon emissions.
That brings me to the second point. China dominates the global renewables market, and as such, they are expanding their domestic renewable energy capacity faster than anyone else in the world. After all, they can buy renewable technology domestically, which not only makes it cheaper through reduced shipping and mitigating tariffs but also ensures funds stay within the Chinese economy and enables the Chinese renewable industry to reach higher scales of economy, making them more competitive on the international market.
This year alone, China installed 210 GW of solar capacity, twice the total solar capacity installed in the US and four times that China installed in 2020. They also installed 70 GW of wind power, which is more than the UK currently has installed. What’s more, the droughts which crippled China’s vast hydroelectric infrastructure over the past few years appear to be coming to an end, enabling them to add another 7GW of hydropower. But it isn’t just renewables that are growing rapidly. This year alone, China has added 3 GW of nuclear power, the equivalent of half of the UK’s current nuclear power capacity.
Now, over this year, China has also grown its coal power plant capacity. As these plants are incredibly polluting, many thought they would offset these dramatic leaps forward in renewables and low-carbon energy. The reason China has had to turn to coal is because their energy demand was growing quicker than they could adopt renewables, and as coal plants are cheap to build, it made sense to use them to fill the temporary gap in their energy infrastructure. However, this analysis is the first to show that the rate of low-carbon energy expansion is now sufficient to not only meet but exceed the average annual increase in China’s energy demand.
In other words, China is now on the path to phase out fossil-fuel energy and move towards a fully low-carbon energy infrastructure.
This, in turn, is changing the politics inside China. You see, more and more people and businesses within China are now dependent on the renewables and EV industry rather than the fossil fuel industry. As such, it is in China’s best interest to be a part of and spearhead tighter climate regulations, domestically and internationally. While this change won’t shift leadership, as Xi will likely remain in power, his stance towards climate policy will have to dramatically change over the next few years if he wants to keep China and his government prosperous. This, in turn, should drive down their emissions further and significantly help reduce other nations’ emissions too.
But as always with China, I feel we need to address how inequitable global emissions are.
Yes, China has the highest emissions of any nation at 29.2% of global annual emissions. Meanwhile, the US comes in second with 11.2%, India in third at 7.3% and the EU in fourth at 6.7%. But that isn’t the whole story; you see, China’s annual per capita emissions are only 8 tonnes. Compare that to the US at 14.9 tonnes per capita, India’s 1.9 tonnes, the UK’s 5.9 tonnes and the EU’s 6 tonnes. There are worse per capita emissions countries than the US, namely Australia and most of the Middle East. But the US is still emitting far more than it should for a nation of its size.
So, while this Carbon Brief analysis gives hope that China can curb its monstrous emissions, it doesn’t detract from the US’s lethargic approach to climate action. Climate change will affect us all, and we all must shoulder the responsibility of fighting it. Right now, China is doing more than most and is making up for the lethargic progress in the US.
Don’t get me or this analysis wrong. China is still the climate elephant in the room, and it has a long way to go before it can do its part in saving the planet. But it is making serious strides in that direction. Meanwhile, the US is emitting far more than its fair share of planet-destroying gasses whilst pressurising China and India, who proportionately contribute to climate change far less, to reduce theirs. So, in this way, the US is the bratty child wanting everyone else to change their ways so that they can continue their inane game.
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