Why is the climate agenda of interest to China? – 06/24/2021 – Tatiana Prazères

When China announced its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, there was criticism. Many wanted more details or more ambition, but no one thought it was an easy goal to achieve.

As the world’s largest emitter of CO2, China has a very high mountain of carbon to dump. And Chinese emissions continue to grow. With this, the country will have to “decarbonize” its economy at a speed never seen before, if it is to achieve the goal.

To be successful, China will need to undergo a brutal economic transformation and rely on technologies that do not yet exist. The Chinese economy is very energy intensive – especially since industry, especially heavy industry, is still important. And the energy consumed in the country remains heavily dependent on coal, which China has in abundance.

Despite this, Beijing will have to speed up the withdrawal of mines and power plants, it will see unemployed people and cities emptied to meet the new goals. Without imposing a cost on your businesses, this will not make the climate transition possible. Governors and mayors will have to sacrifice other goals to make this possible.

The path is not a straight line – as the construction of new thermoelectric power plants in China today shows – but the pro-low carbon direction is given. And why even? What drives China to embrace the climate agenda despite the heavy burden, especially when it no longer grows with the exuberance of the past? What does Beijing gain from it?

First, the government is convinced that China is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change. They don’t think the subject is a fabrication by rich countries to promote their agendas. Rising sea levels, for example, could plunge parts of Shanghai and Guangzhou underwater – and there are no deniers at the helm.

Second, there is the economic, financial and technological dimension. China sees this as an opportunity to position itself as a key player in the new economy emerging from this global transition.

Right now, the country is setting up a nationwide carbon credit market, after years of testing in seven cities. It will be the biggest in the world.

Beijing is also seeking leadership in technologies that will enable climate change. “Green tech” makes it possible to combine economic and environmental objectives, often seen in opposition.

Moreover, if it does not act, China, which is the world’s largest exporter, will face growing environmental barriers in other markets.

Third, foreign policy, reputation and “soft power” matter. For the world champion of carbon dioxide emissions, inaction would have a high image cost.

Also, energy security and geopolitical considerations have their weight. China imports 75% of the oil it consumes. Weaning off coal is complicated, but developing renewable energies is not a bad deal.

Finally, domestic politics also enters the equation. The route is indirect, but the weight is great. Here, concern for another problem – air pollution – provides a strong incentive for the country to invest in reducing carbon emissions. Even if these agendas are not necessarily linked, here they are. It’s all part of the idea of ​​ecological civilization, a concept enshrined in the Constitution in 2018.

For Chinese citizens, climate change can be a very abstract concept. But air pollution is not. As the population has basic needs met, their demands change. Expectations are rising.

If climate change is not visible to the citizen, air pollution is – and a lot. The problem cannot be hidden even if you want to. And disgruntled audiences are not a good deal, even in China.

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