China Outshines U.S. On Climate Change

The big climate change news from the last few weeks is that China has finally released it’s CO2 mitigation plan. It’s fairly impressive, all things considered. I’d call it a good start, and even though it’s fairly ambitious; however, just like the U.S. plan — it falls far short of what will eventually be required. But let’s just be hopeful for the moment.

Here’s a quick rundown of what China proposes…

  • Cut the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit GDP to 60-65% of 2005 levels by 2030
  • Put a nationwide cap and trade program for carbon dioxide in place for industry (they already have several pilot programs modelled after California’s cap and trade system)
  • Increase the use of alternative energy to about 20% of total energy use by 2030
  • Peak their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 or sooner
  • Reduce use of coal, and increase wind power and natural gas

That sounds like a pretty good start. There’s actually a bunch more stuff in the Chinese National Program on Climate Change. You can see the Chinese plan here (scroll down for the english translation).
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website contains all of the greenhouse gas reduction plans that have been submitted ahead of the COP21 climate change conference to be held in Paris this November. These plans are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) documents, and are listed by country. This makes for some very interesting reading indeed!

One thing that’s really great about China’s proposal is that now the two biggest CO2 polluters in the world (China and the U.S.) have put forth plans that set the stage for the COP21 conference. It makes the likelihood of a worldwide and legally binding, carbon dioxide emissions control plan much more likely.

Another good thing about the US and China teaming up to tackle CO2 emissions is that it gives politicians in other countries the ammo they need to shoot down those who complain that they shouldn’t do anything about their emissions because the China and the U.S. aren’t doing anything.

It will also help get other big polluting countries, such as Russia and India that have weaker plans, to step up their commitment. Currently, Russia’s plan is based on reducing their emissions using the peak of Soviet era industrial output in 1990, not on their current emissions. India, who also just announced their plan, reserves the right to emit more carbon than developed countries to help grow their economy by 2030, but they will still attempt to cap their emissions and improve efficiencies.

So all things considered, the stage is set for a potentially fruitful COP21 climate change conference in Paris this November. In truth, the efforts proposed are still woefully short of what needs to be done to keep total global warming under 2 degrees centigrade (we’re at 1.5C right now).  But, we have to start somewhere, right?

If you want to read more about joint U.S. – China efforts, here’s the White House’s press release about climate change cooperation. Good stuff!