At this year’s COP26 climate conference Sunday, China will commit to net-zero emissions before 2060—despite the fact that it says its carbon emissions will keep rising in the coming decade, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).
What’s happening: “[A]mid escalating coal shortages this fall, [China’s top climate and energy official, Vice Premier Han Zheng] told state-owned energy companies the immediate goal was to up ‘coal supplies by any means necessary.’”
- Coal powers over half of China’s economy, and China accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions.
- As a result, “Beijing pushed a range of measures to discourage the use of coal and control emissions. In late August, China’s top climate and energy official, Vice Premier Han Zheng, convened an online meeting of provincial leaders in Beijing, where he admonished them to ‘resolutely curb the blind development’ of high-emissions projects like coal plants.”
Why it matters: “China alone currently generates around 14 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases a year. If that number stays largely unchanged in 2030, the country would account for more than half the world’s theoretically allowable emissions. That means the rest of the world would have to work harder if China doesn’t do more, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said at a July speech in London, noting that hitting carbon goals in that case would likely be ‘impossible to achieve.’”
- China’s central government aims to be a global leader in new-energy tech in which it hopes other countries will invest.
- Policymakers in China claim the country can make up for slower emissions progress before 2030 with a more rapid emissions decline over the subsequent two decades.
A tall order: “Getting enough energy in a way that achieves Beijing’s 2060 net-zero emissions target will require investments of as much as $2 trillion a year until 2060, UBS Group estimates, including a more than tripling of its current world-leading pace of renewable-energy installations. Adding to the challenge is that China can’t easily pivot away from coal until it has enough other alternatives to ensure users have reliable power.”
- China’s reliance on coal has been on full display recently, as the nation deals with the worst electricity shortfalls in more than a decade, jeopardizing global supply chains.
Reliable alternative needed: Though China is ramping up wind and solar projects, coal-dependent provinces in particular will still need reliable back-up energy sources.
- Batteries are one option, but the technology isn’t yet mature enough to provide the needed power.
- The Shandong province, which is currently building 26 new coal-fired power plants, plans to import power from other provinces, “[b]ut relying on imported power is ‘uncertain,’ Shandong’s energy bureau warned in a public notification in May, since generating provinces don’t always send what they have promised and some can be lost in transmission.”
The NAM’s take: “Manufacturers in the U.S. will continue to lead the global response to climate change, but to be effective, the response must be truly global,” said NAM Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy Rachel Jones. “Unfortunately, the original 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change did not anticipate the shift where China would become the biggest global emitter. It requires significantly more commitments from countries considered ‘developed’ in 1992 than countries that were not, like China and India. Much has changed since 1992, yet the UNFCCC’s arbitrary lines remain in place—an obstacle to increased global ambition and one that potentially penalizes the leadership of manufacturers in the U.S.