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China's climate change combat

China was among the near-200 countries to adopt the Paris Climate Change Agreement (Paris Agreement) at an historic UN conference in Paris, France on 12 December 2015. As an emerging economy and one of the world’s major emitters of greenhouse gases, how China implements the Paris Agreement will be important. We asked Dr Xuedu Lu of the Asian Development Bank for his views.

OECD Yearbook: What has China agreed to implement as part of its contribution to the Paris Agreement?

Xuedu Lu: There’s no doubt that China made important contributions to the Paris Agreement, and this fact was acknowledged by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and President François Hollande of France, which hosted the event. In its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) submitted to the UNFCCC* as part of the Paris Agreement, China shows its determination to be fully involved in global efforts to protect the climate.

It has set the following targets for 2030: to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions, if possible, earlier than 2030; to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level; to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and to increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic metres compared with the 2005 level.

China also aims to accelerate the transformation of energy production and consumption, optimise its energy mix, improve energy efficiency and increase its forest carbon sinks to help in mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Have any actions already been taken or are there any in the pipeline?

Clearly, China must now make the climate agreement official. A senior state leader of the Chinese government, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who oversees climate change affairs, announced at a ceremony to sign the Paris Agreement in New York on 22 April 2016 that China would approve the Paris Agreement before the G20 Summit 2016 on 4-5 September 2016 in Hangzhou.

Meanwhile, China published the “China Energy Outlook 2030” report on 1 March 2016, which indicates that its GHG emissions may reach peak earlier than 2030 if the share of low-carbon energy is enhanced. New attention is being given to this. Also, under its 13th National Economic and Social Development Planning (2016-2020) China has included a chapter on “Actively Addressing Climate Change” which calls for a priority to be placed on actions to control GHG emissions in the energy and industrial sectors; for pilot low-carbon cities to be launched to help ensure early peaking; and for near-zero-emission engineering projects to be demonstrated. The chapter also calls for the establishment of a nationwide emission trading scheme, and for measures related to emission accounting and emission standards to be enforced. There are currently 42 Pilot Low-Carbon Cities in China, and the government plans to expand that number to 100 by the end of 2016. All of them are being asked to set their targets for peaking emissions earlier than 2030.

Moreover, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing, Urban and Rural Development issued the “Adaptation Action Plan of Cities” on 17 February 2016, to guide policies and actions for enhancing the resilience of cities to climate change.

Are you optimistic that the targets can be met and what would you advise?

Based on my own experience of working in government in China, I am quite optimistic that every effort will be made to achieve the targets as submitted. Everyone knows that it is in the national interest to halt climate change. This is clear in official documents and in statements by President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. In China, once top officials focus on something, the institutions follow. So, I am confident that China will act.

However, clearly, China still faces huge challenges to achieve the targets, in particular ensuring that emissions peak by 2030. Boosting the share of non- and low-carbon energy will be difficult enough, given the limited availability of such resources while meeting the needs of society as a whole. And let’s not forget the burgeoning areas in central and western China, where demand will likely rise for energy-intensive products like steel and iron, cement and glass in the years ahead. Collecting and monitoring accurate data on GHG emissions will be challenging too.

For China to achieve its targets, it must overcome such challenges. This is why international co-operation, including multilateral support and access to global knowledge bases, is so important. When it comes to climate, no country can do it alone.

*UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: www.unfccc.int

References

More on China’s INDC

China’s 13th National Economic and Social Development Planning (2016-2020)

China’s Adaptation Action Plan of Cities

More on the “China Energy Outlook 2030”

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International collaboration at the OECD Forum 2016

Other OECD Forum 2016 issues

OECD at COP21

OECD work on environment

OECD work on green growth and sustainable development

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OECD Yearbook 2016