Index > Briefing
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Climate Change Pressure Drives China's Efforts in Transformation

Recently, international geopolitical frictions have intensified significantly, with the United States and China moving towards a complete decoupling with ever intensifying confrontations. On the top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted countries around the world. Under such circumstances, is global climate change still a significant issue? Many people would think that climate change is merely a problem to be focused on during the peacetime. With globalization close to falling apart, the global climate problem appears to be a trivial issue in such a trying time.

However, researchers at ANBOUND believe that once the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to ease, the global climate change issue may soon return to the international political arena and become a highlighted multifaceted matter. It should be pointed out that in the new round of international cooperation and competition on global climate issue, China will receive more international attention, and it will be expected to assume more international responsibilities by making greater contributions. Taking into account the external environment the country is currently facing, China may also encounter new international challenges on the issue of climate change.

One reason is that the climate change problem is still worsening. The World Meteorological Organization has pointed out in a recent report that "climate change has not stopped for COVID-19". This spring, as many countries imposed strict restrictions on travel, social interactions and commuting to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, the flow of people has stopped abruptly. As a result, emissions during the peak period of the lockdown in April fell by 17% compared with the same period last year. Although this decline was unprecedented in scale, it was not enough to weaken the trajectory of global warming, not to mention that its effect was short lived. According to the monitoring of the World Meteorological Organization, by the beginning of June, daily carbon dioxide emissions had fallen by less than 5% from 2019 levels; yet by the end of June, passenger car traffic in the United States had rebounded to the same level as 2019.

Another important reason that China cannot avoid responsibility is that it emits the most greenhouse gases. In the article "The Great Disrupter" published in the Economist (September 17, 2020), China is touted as the "biggest polluter." This criticism is based on the fact that China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world's greenhouse gas emissions were approximately 55 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. According to data from the World Resources Institute, in the composition of global greenhouse gas emissions, buildings (17%) and road transportation (12%) account for the largest proportions, while the shipping and air transportation account for 2%. In the industrial sector, the steel industry accounts for 8%, the chemical and petrochemical industries account for 6%, and the cement industry accounts for 3%. By country, China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for approximately 25% of global emissions; the United States is second with 12%; while the European Union and India each account for 7%. Overall, the 20 most-emitting countries in the world produce approximately 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In terms of emissions, China has an inescapable responsibility for global climate change. Judging from China's economic trends, industrial structure, and development stages, it is certain that China's share of global greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase, and this continuous increase process will last at least until 2030 (i.e. the peak emission year as estimated by China). With the increasing impact of climate change, global attention to this issue will continue to heighten, and more and more international attention will be focused on China. In fact, the international community has long realized that China's participation in global climate and environmental issues is extremely important, because China, whether as a "polluter" or as an "improver", has the greatest impact on global environmental issues.

Chinese policymakers have realized the importance of this issue. President Xi Jinping proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 22 that countries should promote a "green recovery" of the world economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. Xi also promised that China will adopt improved policies and measures to reach the peak of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, as well as strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Although China's proposed carbon neutral time is 10 years later than the global carbon neutral time proposed by the United Nations Climate Change Conference (the UN proposed the year 2050), the international community has positive expectations of China's participation in climate issues and believes that China's statement at the UN General Assembly is of great significance. If China can fulfill its promises, it will be vital in the global response to climate change.

It is also worth noting that in his speech at the UN General Assembly meeting on the same day, U.S. President Donald Trump accused China of dumping huge amounts of garbage into the ocean every year, and that China's carbon emissions are twice that of the United States. It is clear that Trump is not concerned about climate issues when he insisted on withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. If Joe Biden wins the U.S. election in the future, the United States may resume its accession to the Paris Agreement. If that happens, the U.S. will have a greater involvement in climate issues, which may also increase accusations and pressures on China.

Therefore, China must take proactive measures on the global climate issue, otherwise it will become the accused in this rare multilateral issue.

ANBOUND's researchers believe that for its next step, China will transform the pressure on global climate change into domestic policy actions. While developing its own economy, China will simultaneously continue to emphasize industrial transformation and upgrading, environmental protection, reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as striving to find a balance between the environment and the economy. This adjustment may be a long-term strategy and it will pose a major challenge to China's future choice of industrial development path and economic development model. China will certainly not encourage the development of certain high-carbon industries (such as coal-fired power plants, chemical industries), but instead will encourage the development of certain low-carbon or clean industries (such as new energy, low-energy-consuming technology industries, etc.). It is therefore particularly important for China to find areas of development that not only meet environmental protection requirements, but also reflect technological innovation, and at the same time able to promote economic growth.

It is actually not difficult to find such a field. The "Hydrogen Energy Society" advocated by ANBOUND in recent years is a strategic area with a tripartite balance function. In our vision, the hydrogen energy society is a strategic starting point and a complex system that covers basic research, technological innovation, manufacturing, consumer environment, infrastructure facilities, public policies, financial support, energy security and other fields. If China can adhere to this strategic direction and continue to advance, it will be of great significance to the country's future sustainable development. Its role is not only to promote hydrogen fuel vehicles or to develop the hydrogen energy industry, but to build a new system in China that integrates "technical-economic-social-security" factors.

Final analysis conclusion:

The issue of global climate change will soon return to an important position on the global stage, and China is destined to become the focus of this multilateral cooperation arena. Hence, China needs to take precautions and make arrangements in this regard as soon as possible. In addition to being a responsible and active participant, China should also maintain transparency, and combine economic-industrial upgrading in the construction of a consumer society to build a hydrogen energy society.

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