US Withdraws from Paris—Don’t Expect China to Follow Suit

Although the Trump Administration has now started the official process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement by November 4, 2020, don’t expect China or other countries to follow suit. China has already submitted a “Nationally Determined Contribution” – the set of targets and actions China has committed to to fight climate change – to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and intends to fulfill its commitments. The “NDC” is a key component of implementing the Paris Agreement, and Chinese leadership has made clear that even if Trump withdraws from the Paris Agreement, China remains committed to climate action. Just as cities and states in the US refuse to allow Trump to stop the drive towards climate action in the US (see these posts by my colleagues Jake Schmidt and Kit Kennedy on climate action by US states, local governments and businesses), China’s actions to fight climate change will continue, even if the US, the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, withdraws from the Paris Agreement.

China Remains Global Leader in Renewable Energy 

China is the world’s largest market for renewables, installing more wind and solar last year than the US, EU, Canada, India, Japan, Korea and Brazil combined (almost 65 GW). China far outstrips other countries in its total solar and wind installed capacity, with 175GW of solar and 184GW of wind capacity installed as of the end of 2018. For comparison, the United States has the third largest installed solar capacity at 51GW and second largest wind capacity in the world at 94GW. 

Qinghai province in China’s west, which has installed massive amounts of wind and solar in the past few years, operated for 15 days in June without any coal power, relying only on hydro, wind and solar. In fact, within the province, only 1 of 10 coal plants were operating over the summer. As China continues to deploy more renewable energy and to have it compete directly with coal power, this phenomena will become more common in other parts of China, with the share of coal in the power mix and overall energy consumption continuing to fall. In fact, the share of coal in total energy consumption has been falling every year since 2015, from 64% in 2015 to 59% in 2018 and an estimated 1.7% reduction in the first 9 months of this year.

As China has promoted the transition to zero carbon energy technology, it has grown employment in its renewables sector to over 4 million jobs, including 2.2 million jobs in the solar PV sector, 670,00 jobs in solar water heating and 510,000 jobs in the wind sector, according to the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs 2019 Annual Review.

China on Track to Full Commitments Under the Paris Agreement

Here is a status update on China’s progress towards the climate commitments included in its Nationally Determined Contributions

  • Peaking CO2 Emissions by 2030: “To achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and making best efforts to peak early” 

Prior to 2014, the International Energy Agency, US Energy Information Administration and other researchers predicted that China’s emissions would keep climbing through at least 2040. But in its 2015 NDC, China committed to controlling it CO2 emissions, peaking them around 2030 and making best efforts to peak earlier. 

Given that China has already implemented a coal consumption cap policy nationally, to reduce the share of coal in total energy consumption to 58% or less by 2020, from 64% in 2015, and is continuing to rapidly expand its wind and solar energy and to electrify its vehicle fleet, China is likely to peak its CO2 emissions by around 5 years earlier than its current 2030 target. A recent report by the National Center for Climate Change Strategy also recommended that China adopt absolute carbon caps in its next 14th Five Year Plan (2021-25), with a target of limiting CO2 emissions to 10.6 gigatonnes in 2025.

  • Carbon Intensity Reduction: “To lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level” 

China has already achieved a reduction in carbon intensity of around 46% in 2018 relative to 2005 levels. And it is on track to reach a 50% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020. Thus, it is likely to overachieve its 2020 40-45% carbon intensity reduction target by 5-10 percent. This puts China on a path to meeting and surpassing the 60-65% reduction by 2030.

  • Non-Fossil Energy: “To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%” 

China is on track to install 950 GW of non-fossil energy by 2020 and 1800 GW of non-fossil energy by 2030. In terms of generation, renewables and other non-fossil sources will generate 35% of its electricity by 2020 and 53% of its electricity by 2030. Thus, achieving a 20 percent share of non-fossil energy in terms of total primary energy consumption is within reach.

  • Forests: “To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level.” 

Premier Li Keqiang announced at a meeting of the national climate change, energy saving and emissions reduction leading group that China had already met its 2030 target to increase forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters, compared to 2005.  

This post was co-written with my colleague Han Chen.

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