Countries accounting for more than half of global carbon emissions have announced their plans to reduce pollution into the next decade after China submitted its targets to the United Nations overnight.
The world’s largest emitter announced it will aim to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product by 60 to 65 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and reiterated its commitment to peaking emissions “around 2030”.
The document said that China will be “making best efforts to peak early”, which is considered likely given its history of exceeding commitments on climate action and the rapid decline in the cost of renewable energy technologies.
The Chinese regime has also committed to increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20 per cent – up from 11.2 per cent in 2014 – and boosting “forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic metres on the 2005 level”.
China’s climate pledge, which comes as momentum builds for the 21st international climate talks to be hosted by Paris in December, also contains details of China’s already impressive climate action.
By 2014 it had reduced carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 34 per cent on 2005 levels, reforested substantial areas to invigorate carbon stores, and its wind power capacity had shot up to 90 times what it was in 2005.
Solar capacity had grown to a staggering 400 times what it was one decade ago while nuclear capacity, which in 2014 made up considerably less of China’s energy mix than hydro, solar, and wind power, and was around three times 2005 levels.
The policy document, known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution in UN lingo, also argues for a legally binding agreement, a key factor in any agreements success, which earlier talks in Copenhagen failed to pin down.
The World Wildlife Fund welcomed China’s INDC and Samantha Smith, the leader of WWFs Global Climate and Energy Initiative, noted that “this is the first major developing country emitter to set a total emissions peak target”.
“In doing so, China has committed to both global climate security and to a transformational energy transition at home,” Smith said.
Importantly, the INDC notes that to achieve it objectives out to 2030, “China needs, building on actions already taken, to make a sustained effort in further implementing enhanced policies and measures”.
In another first, Smith said China also “broke the mould” for climate pledges because “the government has included an implementation roadmap, with the relevant domestic legislative process that will make the targets legally binding”.
It’s work that still needs to be done but John Connor, the CEO of the Climate Institute, said that the announcement is “a significant global step forward and shows China’s determination to modernise and clean-up its economy”.
“They should be seen as the floor not the ceiling of China’s actions, which have escalated in recent years and will need to lift more if we are to avoid 2°C warming.”
“Australia risks getting caught in the backwash of global climate action and economic modernisation if it sticks with laggards like Canada,” Connor warned.
But even Canada – in concert with other members of the powerful Group of Seven Nations – recently committed to phasing out fossil fuels by the end century with a view to reaching the “upper end” of the 40 to 70 per cent cut to emissions by mid-century.
Australia is due to announce its own targets within weeks, but experts are asking serious questions about whether the cuts will be deep enough, and what policy will be used to achieve them.
A series of reports have highlighted recently that, for Australia, delayed action will dramatically increase the cost of responding to climate change, and argued that transitioning to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is comfortably achievable.
“The tests of our soon to be released post-2020 target are primarily climate credibility but also carbon competitiveness,” Connor said.
“The plans China has announced today[ …] are driven by its hard-headed assessment of national interest that an economy dependent on out-dated polluting technologies is not good for business, health or energy security.”