Following in the wake of the monumental US–China climate announcement from last week, a new report claims that China could lower its carbon dioxide output and minimise pollution without harming its economic growth.
One of the greatest sticking points for Chinese carbon reduction is the simple fact that the only way it can continue to grow at its current pace is to rely on fossil fuel energy generation. Home to the world’s largest population and an exploding economy, China’s continued economic growth is of utmost importance. Cutting emissions along the same lines as Western nations like the US would see its economy take a catastrophic hit.
However, “China can achieve economic development, energy security and reduce pollution at the same time,” says the authors of a new study conducted by Tsinghua University.
The study, China and the New Climate Economy (PDF), was published in Beijing and is linked to a series of country studies linked to the work of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. It follows another similar study which was released in Washington earlier this year.
“The Global New Climate Economy Report which was launched this September provided strong evidence that economic growth could benefit from action on climate change,” said Chen Yuan, Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the CPPCC, who is also a member of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. “China and the New Climate Economy reinforces this message. It indicates that China can ensure healthy economic development, improve energy security and reduce climate risks through collaborative governance on economic, energy and environmental goals.”
Many have criticised the China–US announcement, claiming it is a lopsided deal favouring China doing nothing and the US having to make even greater cuts — cuts that some believe President Barack Obama won’t be able to act upon. However, any other deal would have been pie-in-the-sky and criticised just as harshly as being unrealistic. The current deal takes into account the abilities of each country. Furthermore, installing 1,300 MW of renewable energy in China per week up through 2030 is a big deal.
The authors of the report start out by making a simple, yet necessary clarification:
The ultimate goals of economic growth are to expand human freedom and provide a better, safer and cleaner Earth for both present and future generations.
Anyone suggesting that China should “do more” in its climate deal with the US dismiss this basic human right. Such a call goes further, and dismisses the pivotal work China has already been making on energy and environmental policy at home. I’ve covered numerous stories over the past several months of China cutting dirty coal use and imports, decreasing coal usage for the first time this century, and near-unparalleled investment into the renewable energy sector, at home and abroad.
This new report takes it a step further, however, and investigates the specifics of how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and pollution levels now. The report presented several policy recommendations it believes could secure a healthier future for China — the foremost of which is setting a limit on total coal consumption, stabilising coal consumption around 2020, before an absolute decline in total coal consumption.
We recommend that China should set a medium/long term target for CO2 emission reduction as soon as possible, and use the target as a guide and forcing mechanism to promote the transformation of economic and social development and to accelerate energy conservation and carbon reduction.
The report specifically looks at a target whereby CO2 emissions stabilise and stop increasing around 2030, just as the agreement with the US provides for. Beyond that, China would then be required to implement further policies on economy restructuring, energy conservation, energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy development, and air pollutant reduction.
“China has the opportunity to prove to the world that it is possible to achieve the goals of increasing people’s standard of living, while reducing the risk of climate change at the same time,” said Teng Fei, Professor at the Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy, at Tsinghua University and an author of the report. “We can expect better access to education in cities, more employment opportunities as well as better air quality and health. This is not only the ‘Chinese Dream’, but also the world’s dream. China will lead the world by providing a blueprint for a new climate economy.”
Speaking at the event, Andrew Steer, President and CEO of World Resources Institute, a think-tank headquartered in Washington DC, said: “In a week when the leaders of the United States and China stood shoulder-to-shoulder and made serious commitments to tackle climate change, it is heartening to see this study which provides detail of the policies needed to make these commitments real.”