By Vinny Davis*
Air pollution is vitiating the skies of Beijing like never before, prompting questions about the viability of coal-fired economic development. This air-borne pollution and its particulate matter (aerosols) have dire consequences for climatic and weather patterns across the world. Studies have proved the innate connections between the Chinese economic boom over the years and extra-tropical cyclones on the Pacific coast. Therefore it is not unnatural for China to position climate diplomacy as a crucial cause for its future prosperity.
In this respect, the consensus achieved by the world’s largest economies and incidentally the major polluters on climate change is notable. The Sino-American Concord was far from satisfactory; though it brought some sunshine in the ever-strained Sino-U.S relations. Both the countries pledged their commitments to set an ambitious climate target at the crucial Paris conclave. The United States futuristic projections included the determination to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025. These efforts will be coalescing in the form of a target to reduce its emissions by 28%.The Chinese plan was to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030; to peak early and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.
The Sino-American agreement further included the establishment of the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG), to launch action initiatives on vehicles, smart grids, carbon capture, utilization and storage, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas data management, forests and industrial boilers. Agreements towards the global phase down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and the creation of a joint Clean Energy Research Center, to facilitate collaborative work in carbon capture and storage technologies, energy efficiency in buildings, and clean vehicles were other notable achievements. Prudentially, one needs to see what changes in the industrial landscape can make a nation more energy efficient without shutting down its fossil fuel companies or coal -based thermal power plants. This is where bilateral efforts in combating climate change assume prominence. In this increasingly interdependent world, as drivers of global economy neither them can absolve from their roles.
Climate Diplomacy and China
Though the Chinese efforts would remain to be categorized as a late premonition or even grossly inadequate, its resolve in playing a constructive role in global climate negotiations is becoming evident. Given the externalities associated with climate change, cooperation in green finance across nations will benefit the world at large. The recent boost given to the Indian renewable energy plans by major Chinese investments is encouraging. Sany and Chint Group will be investing over $ 5 billion in the Indian renewable power sector. This will be an encouraging step for developing nations like India to re-orient its focus away from coal powered electricity. U.S has pledged over $ 3 billion to the U.N Green Climate Fund in its efforts to finance the developing nations, albeit the contribution is paltry in comparison to China, who announced its commitment to pump in over $3.1 billion for the same.
Comprehending the need to focus on green energy, China is proposing to give a huge boost by tapping its own assets. Being the largest hydro-electric producer in the world, its grand plans include increasing the installed hydro-electric capacity to 370 GW in 2017. The pace with which solar and wind energy is being deployed is also noticeable, as it has grand schemes to generate 70 GW and 150 GW by 2017 from solar and wind energy. The increasing presence of solar photo-voltaic cells in the country is a testimony to prove how much China is inclined to focus on climate change. Reducing coal consumption will be the key to ensure the climate goals. Presently, over 63% of the electricity is coal-dependent in China. The decision to ban new coal plants in the industrial regions and the target to reduce consumption by 65% of total primary energy by 2017 is symbolic of its resolve to rid itself of smoky skies.
Notwithstanding these, nuclear power will occupy a central role in the energy mix, with its capacity set to increase from 14 GW (2013) to 48 GW by 2017. The decision to reduce carbon intensity by over 60-65% below 2005 levels by 2030 is a major highlight in the Chinese Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Energy Efficiency standards for commercial buildings and household appliances are expected to be stringent for enabling robust energy efficiency to scale down the emissions. Though energy savings from automobile industry will prove to be a daunting task, efforts to ensure fuel efficiency by 2020 is already on cards. Chinese are pinning huge hopes on its proposed national energy trading system (2017), to cap emissions, besides allowing industries, and power stations to buy and sell its pollution credits. In view of the messy geo-political situation in West Asia, a shift to alternate renewable energy is the best possible solution for the Chinese. The country has pledged to deliver over 20% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. Although it would be premature to consider that a swift energy transition to low carbon future is in the offing, the pledges could serve as the ground for a sustainable climate goal.
The recent Chinese investments in nuclear power sector in Britain has raised many eyebrows, as the much hyped visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to U.K had a subdued take on climate change concerns. The $18 billion nuclear project at the Hinkley Point Reactor is the smart scheme to hit the bull’s eye. Moreover, the country is poised for a giant leap in terms of issuing green bonds to the tune of $ 4.5 billion. Chinese are proposing to channelize environmental friendly projects through green bonds in renewable energy sector, nuclear power and low carbon buildings. China would neither place itself in a position of competitive disadvantage with its increased renewable energy investments; nor salvage in projecting an image of being the largest emitter of GHG in the years to come, as dragon also desires for smog free skies.
* Author is Managing Associate in Centre for Strategic Studies. Views are personal