Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli is representing China at the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement at the United Nations in New York on Friday. China will be joining the United States, India and over 100 other nations in signing the agreement on the first day it is open for signing. China and the United States are the world’s two largest economies and greenhouse gas emitters, together accounting for 40% of global emissions, so it is significant that the two of them are joining together to sign the agreement, continuing the spirit of cooperation on climate change that they began with their first joint announcement on climate change in November 2014.
Since China first announced in 2014 its intention to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030, with the intention to make best efforts to peak earlier, and to increase its non-fossil energy to 20% of primary energy consumption by 2030, it has moved forward with policies and investment to meet these targets. China’s wind and solar power installations have continued to grow at the fastest pace in the world, supported by a strong feed-in tariff program and, more recently, renewable energy quotas that require provinces to meet specific non-hydro renewable energy targets. These provincial quotas are intended to improve the utilization and integration of China’s wind and solar resources. China's wind grew by an incredible 32.5 GW and its solar PV by 15 GW in 2015, to a total of 129 GW and 43 GW respectively, and are expected to increase to 250 GW for wind and 150 GW for solar PV by 2020, an average yearly increase of 24.2 GW and 21.4 GW respectively.
China has also pushed forward with efforts to put a price on CO2, gaining experience from 7 carbon trading pilot programs that will be useful as it establishes a national carbon cap and trade program program in 2017. The draft carbon trading management regulations for the national program have recently been sent to the State Council for review.
These efforts, combined with a slowdown and fundamental shift in the Chinese economy away from heavy industry towards services, has meant that China has appeared to have peaked its coal consumption in 2013, with a reduction in coal consumption (measured in physical tons) of 2.9% in 2014 and 3.7% in 2015. In the first quarter of this year, coal production has fallen by 5.3% year on year, while thermal power production fell by 2.2%.
The earlier that China can peak its coal consumption, the earlier it can peak its total CO2 emissions, so China’s continued progress in reducing coal consumption and replacing coal with wind and solar energy provides an opportunity for it to peak its CO2 emissions much earlier than its goal of 2030.
In the meantime, the government is also taking steps to address the growing overcapacity of coal power plants, by establishing a coal power risk warning system which has provided a red light warning for coal power plant construction in 28 of 33 provinces and regions, putting the brakes on construction of new coal power plants. Continuing to limit construction of new coal power plants will be important for China to meet its climate change and air quality targets, and will provide room for improved utilization of its wind and solar energy. These steps will put China on a firm footing to accelerate its transition to a clean energy economy and help to lead the global fight against climate change under the Paris Agreement.