China May Lead the Way Against Climate Change

Last week, Chinese officials released the outlines of a bold plan to reduce the country’s contributions to climate change over the next five years. These plans put them on track to meet or exceed the goals set at the Paris climate conference, and show them outpacing their goals set at the 2009 Copenhagen accord.

The World Resources Institute estimated that since China plans to reduce its 2015 carbon emissions levels by 18 percent by 2020, this would accomplish a 48 percent reduction from its 2005 baseline:

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According to the WRI, there are several main reasons why China may be moving in this direction:

The new targets in the plan underscore the fact that the country is no longer merely concerned with the pace of growth, but with the quality of growth. China’s efforts on sustainable development and climate action are driven by strong national interests, such as concern about the impacts of climate change, hazardous air pollution and energy security. There’s also evidence that China’s leaders recognize the economic benefits of clean energy, and that new drivers will be required for the economy to continue its rapid economic growth.

China’s apparent commitment to reaching climate goals and to embracing the future of green energy stands in stark contrast to contemporary discussions of climate issues in the GOP. Remember, absolutely none of the Republican candidates of 2016 ever expressed the belief that climate change was a problem the next U.S. president will have to take seriously.

And worldwide, the GOP is an aberration – no other major political party in the world denies climate change as a matter of course. But if climate change were really some liberal conspiracy, what reason would China have to take such extensive efforts to address the problem?

China’s efforts also disprove another favorite talking point among those opposed to action on climate change, that the U.S. can make no meaningful difference in terms of its contribution to carbon emissions without other polluters like China agreeing to scale back as well. This argument was wrong even if China were doing little to reduce its own emissions, but it’s patently false in view of China’s stated goals.

China’s growth path

One point that is often neglected about China is its amazing progress in recent decades that brought millions of people out of the depths of poverty. As data from the World Bank shows, the number of people living in extreme poverty (making less than $1.90/day) has dropped precipitously since the 1990s:

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There are, of course, many millions of people who are still very poor in China. And if the Chinese government were to insist that it had no responsibility to fight climate change until its people had living standards comparable to those of Americans, what could Americans say in response?

Instead, however, the Chinese government seems to recognize and believe that investing in green energy and in lowering carbon emissions is not just good for the world, but good for China in strictly economic terms.

There are many questions marks remaining, to be sure. How exactly will China meet these targets? The plan itself only offers broad outlines, not a detailed roadmap.

In particular, the plan assumes that China will grow at 6.5 percent, after facing a drastic drop in its growth rate last year. Can China really expect to maintain this growth rate while shifting away from carbon, especially in light of recent signs that its economy might be vulnerable?

It’s not entirely clear, though there are reasons for hope. The WRI points to three major forms of progress in China’s efforts to reduce emissions: a shift towards a more service-based economy, a reduction in coal plants, and extensive investment in renewable energy.

(It’s also not clear if China’s targets will come soon enough to avoid the dire effects of climate change – Bill Gates argues we’ll still need a new miracle energy technology for that.)

While we shouldn’t accept this plan as unequivocal prophecy, we can also expect that Chinese leaders likely would not have committed to goals they thought were impossible. The United States, and the world, would be much better off if more American politicians were open to even considering the possibility of seriously addressing climate change.

Photo Credit: WiNG

115 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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william Miller
william Miller1 years ago

thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Christian Menges
Christian Menges2 years ago

The wealth and economic is build up on industry in china. Profit seeking leeds to catastrophic practice with nature. economical and considerate exploitation of land would be a better solution to protect resources and nature.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

I will believe it when I see it! I don't think they have any intention of living up to that plan.

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John W.
2 years ago

Where did my posts go? 😐

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