CLIMATE GOALS

The Chinese government has announced four principal climate goals:

  • to achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030, making best efforts to peak early;
  • to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60%–65% from the 2005 level by 2030;
  • to increase the share of nonfossil fuels in primary energy to around 20% by 2030; and
  • to increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels by 2030.

These goals were highlighted in the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) China submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in June 2015, as well as in other official documents.[1]

The first goal—to achieve peak emissions around 2030 and make best efforts to peak early—was announced by President Xi Jinping in November 2014 at a summit with US President Barack Obama in Beijing. The pledge made headlines around the world, in part because of the setting, in part because the United States jointly announced its own post-2020 climate target in parallel and in part because it was the first time the Chinese government had committed to absolute limits on CO2 emissions.[2] There is now a considerable literature on China’s prospects for meeting that goal, with many analysts projecting that China is likely to achieve peak emissions several years at least before 2030.[3]

The second goal—to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP (“carbon intensity”) by 60%–65% from the 2005 level by 2030—builds on a similar pledge for 2020 announced by Premier Wen Jiabao just before the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009. That pledge made headlines, in part because it was the first time the Chinese government had committed to limit CO2 emissions. NDRC reports that as of 2017, China’s carbon intensity has declined by approximately 46% as compared to 2005 levels.[4]

The third goal—to increase the share of nonfossil fuels in primary energy to around 20% by 2030—was also announced at the November 2014 Beijing summit with President Obama. In light of China’s size and projected economic growth, this goal implies a very substantial increase in renewable and nuclear power generation in the next decade. An influential 2015 paper projected that 900 GW of new renewable and nuclear capacity (almost equal to the entire power generating capacity of the United States) would be required to meet this goal. NDRC reports that 13.8% of China’s primary energy came from nonfossil fuels in 2017.[5]

The fourth goal—to increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels by 2030—also builds on a pledge made by Premier Wen Jiabao just before the Copenhagen climate conference. In November 2009, Premier Wen pledged that China would increase its forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels by 2020. The 2030 pledge implies an increase in forest cover of about 2–4 times the size of the United Kingdom. In July 2019, Premier Li Keqiang announced that China had met this goal (11 years ahead of schedule).[6]

All these goals are implemented through a policy infrastructure that includes Five-Year Plans, guidance documents and regulations issued by relevant ministries, and financial support provided through diverse channels. One common tool is to allocate targets to provinces. After Premier Wen Jiabao’s 2009 announcement that China would cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP 40%–45% from the 2005 level by 2020, for example, that goal was incorporated into the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011–2015) and a number of specific planning documents under the 12th Five-Year Plan. NDRC then allocated subgoals to individual provinces, giving each province a specific target.

NDRC and the National Bureau of Statistics report annually on progress toward these goals and related indicators.[7]

In addition to these principal goals, the Chinese government sets a number of intermediate or secondary goals related to climate change. For example, in its Work Plan for Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the 13th Five-Year Plan (October 2016), the State Council calls for CO2 emissions per unit of GDP to be 18% lower than 2015 levels by 2020.[8]

Many Chinese provinces and localities have committed to climate goals as well. At least 23 provinces and cities have committed to peaking CO2 emissions before 2030 as part of China’s Alliance of Pioneer Peaking Cities. The city of Wuhan has a Carbon Emissions Action Plan with a commitment to peak CO2 emissions by 2022.[9]

 

References

[1] People’s Republic of China, Enhanced Actions on Climate Change: China’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (June 2015) at p.5.

[2] Some US politicians have said that China’s 2030 peaking goal means China has committed “to do nothing at all” until 2030. This is incorrect for at least two reasons. First, the Chinese government has supplemented its 2030 peaking goal with many energy and emissions goals for the years before 2030. These include goals to deploy renewable and nuclear energy, improve energy efficiency, reduce coal’s role in the Chinese economy and cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 and other years before 2030. Second, the Chinese government intends to keep growing its economy in the years after 2030. Significant changes will be needed to ensure that the Chinese economy can keep growing in the 2030s without increasing emissions. See Frank Jotzo, “FactCheck: does the new climate deal let China do nothing for 16 years?,” The Conversation (November 16, 2014); Bob Sussman, “The US-China Climate Deal: Not a Free Ride for the Chinese,” Brookings (November 25, 2014).

[3] See, e.g., Ye Qi et al., China’s Peaking Emissions and the Future of Global Climate Policy, Brookings (September 2018); Dabo Guan et al., “Structural decline in China’s CO2emissions through transitions in industry and energy systems,” Nature Geoscience (July 2018); Feng Hao and Tang Damin, “China could peak carbon emissions in 2023,” China Dialogue (November 23, 2017); Qilin Liu et al., “China’s energy revolution strategy into 2030,” Resources, Conservation and Recycling (January 2018); Ye Qi et al., “China’s post-coal growth,” Nature Geoscience (2016) at pp.564–566.

[4] Jonathan Watts, “China sets first targets to curb world’s largest carbon footprint,” Guardian (November 26, 2009); NDRC, China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (November 2018) at p.1.

[5] See Fu Sha, Zou Ji and Liu Linwei, “An Analysis of China’s INDC” (2015) at p.5; Jian-KunHe, “China’s INDC and non-fossil energy development,” Advances in Climate Change Research (September–December 2015); NDRC, China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (November 2018) at p.1.

[6]  “Li Keqiang presided over the National Leading Group Meeting on Climate Change, Energy Conservation and Emissions Reduction,” Chinese Government Network (July 11, 2019); Taryn Fransen, Ranping Song, Fred Stolle and Geoffrey Henderso, “A Closer Look at China’s New Climate Plan (INDC),” WRI (July 2, 2015).

[7] See, e.g.,NDRC, China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (November 2018) at p.16. See also National Bureau of Statistics, “Statistical Bulletin on National Economic and Social Development in 2018” (February 28, 2019) at part XII.

[8] State Council, Work Plan for Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the 13th Five-Year Plan (October 27, 2016).

[9] Wee Kean Fong, “23 Chinese Cities Commit to Peak Carbon Emissions by 2030,” World Resources Institute (June 8, 2016); “Mega-City Wuhan Issues Carbon Peaking Plan With Emissions Cap,” EF China News (February 10, 2018

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