China’s Climate Goals Fall Short

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Last year, China made a surprise commitment to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. But last week, the country released its latest Five-Year Plan, which sets the course for its near-term economic development, with no new climate goals. It still allows China to burn coal and doesn’t set a carbon cap to define what its peak emissions will be 

As Quartz explained, although the plan calls for a “major push” on clean energy development, the vague commitment all but guarantees emissions will continue to increase until 2030, when officials have promised they will peak.”

Why This Matters: China is responsible for more than a quarter of global emissions — the most of any individual country — so the country’s climate goals and commitment to them are absolutely essential to tackling the climate crisis. In order to hit Paris Agreement targets, China needs to hit its peak energy consumption in the next five years, according to a recent study. This plan doesn’t get there and experts estimate China’s emissions will continue to rise by at least 1.9 percent.

The international community expected China’s climate policy to jump, but in reality it is still crawling,” Zhang Shuwei, a chief economist at Draworld Environment Research Center, a Beijing-based consultancy firm, told Vox

Still, as EcoWatch reported, some are still hopeful that the government will announce more detailed regulations on carbon-intensive construction and manufacturing industries later this year, and that more details will be laid out in an upcoming separate five-year plan for the energy sector. 

Pandemic Has Spiked, Not Slowed, Emissions: The pandemic caused a brief dip in emissions in China, like other countries worldwide. But China’s recovery has been carbon-intensive, with emissions 4% higher in the second half 2020 than they were the year prior. This spike comes from government stimulus sent to polluting construction and manufacturing sectors. China’s coal, oil, and gas consumption all increased at the end of last year, even after the climate neutrality pledge was announced. 

Coal Plant Construction Continues Despite Neutrality Pledge: Coal consumption continues to rise because China continues to build new coal power plants, even as much of the world winds theirs down. In 2020, China built over more than times as much new coal power capacity compared the entire rest of the world, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Continuing to build and operate new coal power plants harms the respiratory health of anyone living nearby, jeopardizes China’s chances of hitting their carbon neutrality goals, and threatens the global task of slowing climate change. 

What’s more is that China continues to build and finance hundreds of coal plants in places like Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt and the Philippines.


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