New Paper Examines Latest Data on China’s Efforts to Combat Climate Change
New York City, July 30, 2020 — Drawing on the latest available data from 2019 and the beginning of 2020 as the impacts of COVID-19 began to take hold, a new publication released today by the Asia Society Policy Institute says that China’s response to climate change remains a study in contrasts with a number of upcoming decisions likely to set the trajectory of its climate policies for decades to come, and be hugely consequential for the global fight against climate change.
The paper, titled China’s Response to Climate Change: A Study in Contrasts and a Policy at a Crossroads, is authored by David Sandalow, the Inaugural Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former Acting Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy.
The paper highlights that while China continues to lead the world in solar power, wind power, and electric vehicle deployment, it consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined. 2019 was also a mixed year for China. For example, its share of global renewable energy deployment dropped to 36 percent (the lowest it has been in several years), driven principally by a 32 percent drop in solar power installations (conversely, as electricity generation dropped 8 percent during the first quarter of 2020, the share delivered by solar power climbed 12 percent). At the same time, China saw a 28 percent increase in wind power installations and a 7 percent increase in electric vehicle sales.
The paper also highlights a number of major decisions the Chinese government must contend with in the coming 18 months, including as they spend heavily on economic stimulus measures, release their 14th Five-Year Plan, and develop short- and long-term plans as part of the Paris Agreement’s framework. A number of key excerpts are included below.
- 14th Five Year Plan
- “The decision on coal-fired power plant capacity will be among the most important in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan. The China Electricity Council has urged Chinese policymakers to increase the cap on coal-fired power plant capacity to 1300 GW by 2030, which would authorize a massive wave of new coal power plant capacity in China in the years ahead. The implications for global efforts to fight climate change would be very negative.”
- UN Climate Action Plan
- “If the Chinese government submits a climate action plan widely perceived to be ambitious and consistent with the Paris Agreement goals, that will inject momentum into global efforts to address climate change and help validate President Xi Jinping’s strong words in support of the Paris Agreement. If the Chinese government submits a climate action plan widely perceived to be weak, that will slow the Paris Agreement process and lead many observers to question President Xi’s words in support of the Paris Agreement.”
- Mid-Century Strategy
- “The emissions goal adopted by the Chinese government in its mid-century strategy will be especially important…To the extent that China’s mid-century strategy envisions continuing emissions from China after 2050, other countries would need to compensate with negative emissions for the world to reach net zero. In light of the size of China’s economy, that could be extremely difficult.”
The paper is the second in a series of policy products that the Asia Society Policy Institute will publish as part of a project exploring the possibilities around U.S.-China climate cooperation. As the author notes, the “decisions by the Chinese government will reverberate globally, including in the United States. A Biden administration’s ambition in addressing climate change would be reinforced by ambition in China.”
About the Asia Society Policy Institute
With a solution-oriented mandate, the Asia Society Policy Institute tackles major policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific in security, prosperity, sustainability, and the development of common norms and values for the region. The Asia Society Policy Institute is a think-and-do tank designed to bring forth policy ideas that incorporate the best thinking from top experts across the Asia-Pacific and to work with policymakers to integrate these ideas and put them into practice.