China under pressure to clean up as it rivals US as world’s worst polluter

Intro

If China fails to accelerate its energy transition, it will soon overtake the United States as the leading cause of man-made global warming. According to Reuters, experts in Norway and the U.S. estimate that China’s cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, the benchmark year for the U.N.-led climate actions, will overtake those of the U.S. in the next two years. While China has pledged to peak its carbon emissions by around 2030, cap its coal use by around 2020, and ensure at least a fifth of its power comes from renewable sources by around 2030, its continued reliance on extremely polluting fossil fuels and dirty industry is complicating its stated aspirations. However, pressure is increasing on it from within, as growing public anger around air pollution weighs heavily on political decision making, manifesting in tightened environmental regulations. The result is: the coal industry is being squeezed. China’s coal imports in the first quarter of 2015 fell 42 percent from last year — a drastic drop considering that China imported more coal in a single year than any other country in history just two years ago. Simultaneously, the government has set a record high target for renewables this year, ensuring that growing demand can be met with clean energy. As climate change impact is felt on every continent, such as the drought in the U.S. and Latin America, the extreme heat in Australia, and its huge impact on China and the EU, enhancing its energy transition not only add to the global momentum to combat climate change, it also means more quality jobs, improved public health and a more resilient economy for China, according to a series of reports conducted by domestic and international research institutions.

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Key Points

  • China is under pressure to act more in combating climate change, as its cumulative emissions since 1990 about to surpass those of the U.S..  According to Reuters, the Norway-based Center for International Climate and Environmental Research estimates that China’s cumulative emissions since 1990 will overtake the United States’ in 2015. Using “slightly different data,” the U.S.-based think tank World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that China’s 1990-2016 emissions will reach 151 billion tonnes in 2016, surpassing the U.S. by 4 billion tonnes. This may urge China to take more climate actions.
  • China’s effort to clean up its air and economy for environmental, health and climate concerns are taking their tolls on coal industry. China spent $83.3 billion on renewable energy, the largest investment of any country in 2014, and continued to boost clean energy development by easing relevant rules for bonds issuing. After China’s coal use fell for the first time this century, China’s coal use and production continued to drop in the first quarter of 2015 with 80 percent of coal companies with losses reaching 13.1 billion RMB. And according to China’s coal industry’s association, the outlook for coal in the second quarter will only look bleaker.
  • More climate actions mean more jobs, better health and a more resilient economy for Chinese people. According to reports commissioned by NRDC and WWF last week, implementing a national coal cap policy in its 13th Five-Year-Plan increase China’s clean energy job, and could save nearly 50,000 lives and $6.2 billion every year by 2020. These reports come after another report that demonstrates the huge health, jobs and economic benefits if China could scale up its current climate actions to meet a 2°C compatible trajectory.

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Key Quotes

  • “All countries now have responsibility. It’s not just a story about China — it’s a story about the whole world.” – Ottmar Edenhofer, The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research 
  • “China is acting. It has acknowledged its position as a key polluter.” – Saleemel Huq, The International Institute for Environment and Development

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