A laborer in China’s Hebei province is utilizing a cutting tool to cut steel pipes. For the first time, China has pledged to significantly decrease emissions in the power sector.
By Zack Colman
The announcement of the agreement by Special Climate Envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua was released right before the United Nations climate talks in Dubai, starting on November 30. This provides momentum for the negotiations, which aim to align with the goals of the Paris climate agreement to limit temperature rises to under 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
Longtime experts on the relationship between China and the United States have noted that China has made compromises in order to address the issue of climate change, despite ongoing political and economic tensions. This has led to optimism that the agreement will remain intact, as both countries must take decisive action in order to effectively combat rising global temperatures. Together, China and the US contribute almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to David Sandalow, a former climate negotiator and Energy Department official, the two biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions have managed to overcome major disagreements and collaborate in addressing climate change. This serves as a strong message to the rest of the global community.
China and the U.S. will begin more substantive dialogue, including restarting workshops on energy policy, strategies, technologies and broader climate actions. Beijing suspended such exchanges when it halted diplomatic relations with Washington after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
I traveled to Taiwan during August of 2022.
Li Shuo, director of the China Climate Hub at the Asia Society Policy Institute, described the current state of the two nations’ relationship as “challenging.” He stated that the recent joint statement serves more as a foundation for discussion rather than setting the tone, but believes it will contribute to a more stable political climate for the upcoming COP28 climate talks.
According to the report, emissions are expected to continue increasing by 9 percent in the next ten years, based on the current climate plans outlined in the Paris agreement. However, scientists have stated that in order to meet the ambitious goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, emissions must decrease by 43 percent from 2019 levels during this decade.
China has pledged to address all non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases in its climate action plan by 2035, which would aid in closing the current gap. The previous plan from the country only addressed carbon dioxide, but they have now promised to also tackle methane, nitrous oxide, and other non-CO2 gases, as stated in a joint statement.
This would have a significant impact on reducing the Earth’s temperature. According to Nathan Hultman, a former climate official at the State Department who now leads the University of Maryland’s Center for Global Sustainability, China’s non-CO2 gases alone would rank as the third highest in global emissions.
He stated that it is extremely crucial, as we are all aware.
According to Hultman, there are plans to establish minimum requirements for hydrofluorocarbons, a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect and is commonly used as a refrigerant in appliances. This is particularly important because China is the primary producer of products that utilize this gas, which are then sold in developing countries where the demand for air conditioners is expected to rise.
In their joint statement, China has committed to reducing their power sector emissions in a significant and concrete manner for the first time. This goes beyond their previous pledge to reach peak carbon emissions within the next ten years. The statement suggests that China will decrease their reliance on coal-fired power, which they have been rapidly expanding, and instead increase their use of renewable energy sources.
According to Sandalow, the statement suggests that although there may be an increase in coal-fired power, there will still be a decrease in emissions from the power industry in the next ten years. This is significant news.
The United States and China have also reached agreement on additional measures, including a target established by the International Energy Agency, G20 nations, and the organizers of the current climate discussions to increase renewable energy capacity by three times by 2030. The terms of the agreement stated that this deployment would hasten the replacement of coal, oil, and gas generation.
They also agreed to broader partnerships. The nations “aim to advance” at least five “collaborative” carbon capture, utilization and storage projects, a technology that traps the emissions from fossil fuels to store them underground or in other products. And they pledged to hold a high-level subnational event on climate in the first half of 2024.
Although many initial responses to the agreement are cautiously optimistic, experts pointed out that there were certain significant objectives and benchmarks that were not included in the deal.
According to David Waskow, international climate director at the World Resources Institute, the agreement lacks specific goals. In a statement, he noted that although the emphasis on increasing renewable energy by threefold globally this decade is beneficial, stronger commitments to eliminating fossil fuels would have been preferable.
He expressed disappointment that the two countries did not address the urgent need to shift away from using fossil fuels in the next decade, an important topic that will be discussed at the COP28 conference.
Shuo warned that there is still a lot of progress to be made. Historically, China has opposed using language in UN negotiations to decrease the use of coal-fired power, which is a major contributor to climate change.
In an email, he stated that China must also contemplate how they can further advance their goals at the COP. He believes that halting the approval of new coal power projects would be a positive next move.