It’s official. On Tuesday, China submitted its emissions-reduction goals to the United Nations, in the lead-up to the Paris climate summit in December this year. China’s submission, known in UN parlance as its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), follows similar submissions made in the past month by the United States, the European Union, Brazil and others.
China’s submission is particularly important because the country has become the world’s largest carbon emitter, as its manufacturing industry has grown to gigantic size, and because it is viewed as having played a negative role at the last major climate talks, in Copenhagen in 2009.
China’s 2015 commitments are much stronger than those it was prepared to make in 2009, reflecting the enormous strides it has made in building the world’s largest renewable energy industry. The goals being aimed for by 2030 (which reiterate and elaborate on the goals announced as part of the historic November 2014 climate pact with the United States) include:
peaking of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 or earlier
reducing carbon intensity by 60-65% relative to 2005 levels
increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 20%
increasing forest cover by 4.5 billion cubic metres relative to 2005 levels.
Note that these targets reflect a greening of China’s growth (as reflected in its aim to reduce carbon intensity) but not an absolute reduction in carbon emissions. These are moderating but can be expected to keep rising for at least another decade, until China’s renewable power systems start to outweigh the coal-fired and fossil-fuelled systems that have powered the country’s transformation to date.
The submission updates China’s achievements in clean energy by 2014, which stand at:
300 gigawatts (GW) of hydro power (2.5 times more than in 2005)
95.8 GW of wind power (90 times larger than in 2005)
28 GW of solar power.
Targets for 2020, although not included in the UN submission, have already been set by the National Development and Reform Commission. China is aiming for 350 GW of hydro, 200 GW of wind power, and 100 GW of solar power, plus 58 GW of nuclear.
These levels are so far in advance of those of other countries that China can only be described as an emerging renewables superpower. In particular, wind and solar are racing ahead of nuclear, and hydro is being stabilized at just a little above current levels.Leadership and authority
With this submission, China ticks several boxes. It recognizes the authority of the UN and its Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as being the primary international forum for discussion of climate targets. It offers leadership for other emerging industrial giants such as India to follow, particularly in building renewable energy systems as a hedge against energy insecurity engendered by fossil-fuel dependence. And it stays true to the goals that were announced last November in the bilateral agreement with the United States.
Moreover, China is using its submission as a means of demonstrating to the world that rhetorical commitments to carbon reduction ring hollow unless they are backed by real investments in green energy and resource systems. China has made it clear that it sees its energy future in a very large renewables system (which it can build through its own manufacturing) based on huge investments in green infrastructure such as a strong and smart power grid, high-speed rail networks, and urban recharging systems for electric vehicles.
It will cost serious money, a significant amount of which will come from the newly launched, China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
What are the implications for other countries? China’s submission makes clear that it views its climate targets as extending well beyond narrow energy goals, to encompass reforestation (which protects soil and inhibits flooding of rivers), clean urban development and green building, and sustainable transport and agricultural practices. In this way it is providing a model for other developing countries that still see green industrialisation as a luxury suitable only for wealthy countries.
China has already had a huge influence on energy choices around the world through the cost reductions it has driven, as learning curves for solar panels, wind power, lithium-ion batteries and other green technologies help to reduce costs and expand markets. This is an unsurpassed mechanism for accelerating the diffusion of green technologies, an arena where China’s efforts bear fruit for all.
Finally, what are the implications for Australia? The recently signed China-Australia free trade agreement has registered the importance of China in Australia’s economic future. Australia’s membership of the AIIB signals that it wants to stay aligned with China’s initiatives. So it will be difficult for Australia to avoid making a meaningful submission to the UNFCCC, even if the Abbott government is reluctant to do so.
But the real threat to Australia is that China is signalling a firm intention to phase out coal – as it has already started to do, with coal consumption falling in 2014 and continuing to do so in 2015. This means that the coal exports that have attracted so much focus from both the current government and the previous Labor-led coalition have a very limited future.
The enormous market opening up in China for green technology is being ignored by a government that is apparently still obsessed with fossil fuels. China’s submission to the UNFCCC provides a wake-up call.
John Mathews will publish “China’s Renewable Energy Revolution” (Palgrave Pivot) with Hao Tan later this year.
John Mathews does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Activist Naomi Klein, who is in an ‘unlikely alliance’ with Vatican on climate change, says she believes a possible divestment policy is under discussion
The Vatican may consider, but is not committed to, divesting its holdings in fossil fuels, a Catholic church official has said, despite Pope Francis’s call for bold action to fight climate change and global warming.
The statement – made at a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the pope’s recently released encyclical on the environment – is likely to disappoint climate activists, who have praised Pope Francis’s essay stressing that climate change is mostly a man-made problem.Continue reading...
Britain finally confronted the point of a decision on a difficult question that it had ducked for far too long. Or, at least, that is how the Airports Commission presented its endorsement of an extra runway at Heathrow. The airwaves reverberated with the voices of the sort of men who never shrug off a boyhood Airfix fixation, arguing with burning intensity about whether the precise spec and coordinates of the Heathrow proposal, and its Gatwick rival, had the makings of a world-beating hub. A few voices were raised about the “environmental” effect, in the sense of the immediate local environment – questions of noise, of birdlife and the extra fumes that could soon be inhaled by the suffering lungs of Middlesex. These are all real issues, but together with the diversionary debate about “where” rather than “whether”, they pale besides aviation’s contribution to the planet’s slow cooking. If there is a difficult question that has been ducked for too long, then that is the one about decarbonising the economy.
To be fair to Sir Howard Davies, his commission did not ignore carbon. The report predicated its projections of passenger growth on two scenarios, both of which it said could respect UK carbon obligations. The first involved a rigid cap on aviation emissions, a little above current levels. The commission stuck a finger in the air and ventured that this might be compatible with a 61% rise in passengers by 2050, a calculation that must rely on engineering advances easing the brute, energy-intensive physics of lifting people and machinery into the air. The emphasis, however, and the basis for arguing that increased capacity was not merely desirable but imperative, was on a second, fairytale future, in which passengers double, under the auspices of comprehensive and globally enforced carbon trading.Continue reading...
A third runway could throw air quality standards and UK climate targets to the wind
The UK government’s Airports Commission has recommended that a new runway at Heathrow should go ahead, but only with a legally binding commitment to control air and noise pollution.
If the government decides to act on Howard Davies’ recommendation (and doing so would be a political minefield) Londoners will be forgiven for treating any air quality guarantees with a heavy pinch of salt.Continue reading...
A new study finds that global warming is causing weather whiplash.
Just this week, a new article appeared in the journal Nature that provides more evidence of a connection between extreme weather and global warming. This falls on the heels of last week’s article which made a similar connection. So, what is new with the second paper? A lot.
Extreme weather can be exacerbated by global warming either because the currents of atmosphere and oceans change, or it can be exacerbated through thermodynamics (the interaction of heat, energy, moisture, etc.). Last week’s study dealt with just the thermodynamics. This week’s study presents a method to deal with both.
Our study focuses on the need to understand the underlying physical causes of extreme weather events, and to systematically test whether the probability of those underlying conditions has changed in recent decades. Events that are so extreme that they fall outside of our historical experience often result from a suite of complex interacting factors. To better understand these factors we’ve developed a method that allows us to partition the climate influences.
The majority of the observed changes in extreme temperature occurrence have resulted from changes in the heat content of the climate system. However, we also find that the risk of extreme temperatures over some regions has been altered by changes in the motion of the atmosphere via changes in the frequency and duration of regional circulation patterns.
our quantitative partitioning, in conjunction with targeted climate model simulations offers the potential to fingerprint dynamic and thermodynamic influences in isolation, which in turn may facilitate attribution of the observed trends and projection of future trends.Continue reading...
Spell of sweltering weather expected to last several days as temperatures hit 40C and UN urges countries to develop better warning systems
European countries including France, Spain, Italy and Britain have issued weather alerts and the United Nations has urged countries to create better warning systems as a heatwave sweeping western Europe was expected to push temperatures to a nine-year high on Wednesday.Continue reading...
US Chamber of Commerce Promotes Climate Denial. Why are You Surprised They Promote Tobacco Denial, too?
Defence white paper consultation report flags consequences of environmental pressures as a significant security risk for Australia
The Abbott government’s energy white paper made headlines for its curious reluctance to mention climate change – but the looming defence white paper may prove to be a different story.
A report on community consultations associated with the defence white paper flags the consequences of climate change, extreme weather events and environmental pressures as a significant security risk for Australia – second only to the risks posed by terrorism.
Electric car sales have fallen far short of predictions, but the global push to cut carbon emissions and improved techology could see them poised to hit the mainstream, says Renault-Nissan’s head, Carlos Ghosn
Carlos Ghosn, the fast-talking head of the Renault-Nissan alliance, is not keen to be drawn on targets for electric car sales. A 2011 prediction of 1.5m Renault-Nissan electric vehicles by 2016 turned out to be wildly optimistic. The group just passed the 250,000 mark.
Ghosn was not alone. President Barack Obama predicted 1m electric cars in the US by 2015: in January the total was 280,000. Virgin boss Richard Branson, adept as ever at grabbing headlines, said this week that “no new road cars will be petrol driven” within 20 years, calling combustion engines “complicated and antiquated”.Continue reading...
Business flights are falling and the airports commission should keep frequent flyers on the ground, not wave more planes into the air, argues Andrew Simms
The Airports Commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, has today published its report on the next steps for aviation in Britain.
Ghanian cardinal who unveiled the encyclical on climate change is vital to the pope’s vision of an outward-engaging church acting for the poor
When Pope Francis decided after his election in 2013 that he wanted to transform the Catholic church’s teaching on ecology and equality – and put a call for environmental action at the heart of his papacy – Peter Turkson might not have been considered the best candidate to lead the mission.
Although the Ghanaian cardinal was seen as affable and charismatic, his judgment had been called into question a year earlier when he aired an alarmist YouTube video about Islam during a Vatican meeting of bishops. The video, called Muslim Demographics, was criticised as “fear-mongering” and “propaganda” by Vatican Radio. Even the Vatican spokesman distanced himself from the clip, saying it did not represent the bishops’ views.Continue reading...
Australia’s foreign minister says Beijing’s position known ‘for some time’ as world’s largest emitter vows to cut carbon emissions by 60-65% from 2005 levels
Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has played down the significance of China unveiling its post-2020 emissions reduction target, saying Beijing’s position has been known “for some time”.
The world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 60-65% from 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels as part of its primary energy consumption to about 20% by 2030.Continue reading...
CIDSE, international alliance of Catholic social justice groups, follows Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical by calling for action against global warming
More than a dozen Catholic organisations will on Wednesday launch a campaign calling on people to make radical changes to their lifestyle choices – including cutting energy use, eating less meat and buying locally produced food – after the release last week of Pope Francis’s sweeping environmental encyclical.
The plan by CIDSE, an international alliance of 17 Catholic social justice groups from Europe and North America, will be announced at a press conference at the Vatican that will include Peter Turkson, the Ghanaian cardinal who helped draft the papal document, and Naomi Klein, the Canadian author and anti-globalisation activist, who has said that the only hope of avoiding catastrophic warming of the earth requires “radical economic and political change”.Continue reading...