By Helmo Preuss
Chinese President Xi Jinping on 12 December set China ambitious goals to fight climate change. This is important for the planet as China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouses gases, so any change in its policies will have a massive impact on the world and its future.
Xi pledged that China would greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase the share of non-fossil fuels and forest stock in the next decade. These are not empty words as he set out specific targets with timelines; measures that most other countries have yet to implement.
China aims to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. In addition, China intends to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of economic activity by more than 65% from the 2005 level, as well as increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25%, increasing the forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters from the 2005 level, and bringing its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1 200 Gigawatts (GW). By comparison South Africa’s total installed electricity capacity is less than 50 GW.
China has also boosted its investment in clean hydropower with an installed capacity of 350 Gigawatts (GW) of which more than 80 GW is in small hydropower, which boosts the rural economy. In the first six months of 2020, China added some 37 GW new power units to its electricity system taking the total installed capacity to just above 2 050 GW, according to the China Electricity Council. In terms of sources, it added 16.32GW in thermal (coal and gas), 10.15 GW in solar, 6.32 GW in wind and 4.12 GW in hydro.
Compared with the 2015 version of China’s intended nationally determined contributions to reduce emissions announced at the Paris Climate Change talks, the 2020 version shows that China has boosted its efforts. For example, in the 2015 version, the country outlined aims to lower carbon emissions per unit of economic activity by between 60% to 65% from the 2005 level by 2030, while the latest version has now set the target at the upper limit of the 2015 target. In addition, the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption has been raised to 25% from the 2015 pledge of 20%.
US president-elect Joe Biden pledged on 12 December that the US would rejoin the Paris climate accord on the first day of his presidency, namely 20 January 2021, after the Donald Trump administration pulled the US out of the agreement four years ago. This bodes well for a re-engagement between the world’s two largest economies, after escalating trade tensions during the Trump years. This can only help South Africa’s economic recovery from the national lockdowns as China is normally South Africa’s largest trading partner, but in October 2020, the US took the largest share of South Africa’s exports at 12.2% compared with Germany at 9.1% and China at 8.9%,
Xi said there were three major factors that need to be taken note of when attempting to address the global climate challenge.
“First, we need to close ranks and make new advances in climate governance that features cooperation and win-win. In meeting the climate challenge, no one can be aloof and unilateralism will get us nowhere. Only by upholding multilateralism, unity and cooperation can we deliver shared benefits and win-win for all nations. China welcomes all countries’ support for the Paris Agreement and their greater contribution to tackling climate change,” he said.
The second element was to raise ambition and foster a new architecture of climate governance where every party does its part.
“Following the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, all countries need to maximize actions in light of their respective national circumstances and capabilities. At the same time, developed countries need to scale up support for developing countries in financing, technology and capacity building. Third, we need to boost confidence and pursue a new approach to climate governance that highlights green recovery. Mountains and rivers green are mountains of silver and gold. It is important to encourage green, low-carbon ways of life and production, and seek development opportunities and impetus from green development,” he added.
* Preuss is an economist at Forecaster Ecosa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.