- Nationwide programs to identify the impact of closing polluting industries such as coal mines, coal-fired power plants etc. on the livelihood of affected workers
- Designing the necessary training and reskilling programs to support workers’ transition into new jobs or encourage entrepreneurship
- Policy or legislation should be developed to steer and enable regional and local governments to focus on green development goals and a just transition
- Accelerated installation of renewable energy sources such as on- and off-shore wind and solar farms
- Investment into grid-improvement and battery storage
- Education to enable responsible consumption
- Step up monitoring efforts of carbon emissions at their source.
Since the start of its international commitment to fight climate change, China has made significant strides in addressing emissions reductions. Despite the fact that many parts of the country, beyond its glitzy megacities, remain in a developing stage and that the government has to ensure the livelihood of its 1.4 billion people, the results over the ten-year period of the 12th and 13th National Five-Year Plans have been remarkable.
By 2019 China had achieved a reduction of “carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 48% compared to 2005 levels, equivalent to a reduction of about 5.62 billion tons of CO2 emissions, with a corresponding reduction of about 11.92 million tons of sulphur dioxide and 11.3 million t of nitrogen oxides. The share of the tertiary sector increased from 41.3% to 53.9%, the proportion of coal consumption dropped from 72.4% to 57.7%, the proportion of non-fossil energy in primary energy increased from 7.4% to 15.3%.”
Given the continued developing stage of large swathes of the country, currently available plans for future development integrate the concept of sustainability with a view to harmonious coexistence between humans and nature. China’s long-term vision to develop the nation into strong socialist modern state and a beautiful China is to be realized in two phases. First is basic modernization from 2020 – 2035, which will need to see the integration of various concepts of ecological environment, the implementation of international emission reduction commitments, and the promotion of high quality economic and social development into one integrated system of thinking, while at the same time laying the technological and industrial foundations and policy guarantees to enable deep decarbonization by 2050. The phase between 2035 and 2050 will also require a more prominent target-oriented emission reduction pathway at a 2°C or even 1.5°C temperature rise.
The strategic goal for China to reduce climate gas emissions across a large spectrum of domains seems obvious: reduce the reliance on coal and other fossil fuel to power the economic growth and development of China and embrace new clean energy sources and energy saving technology. However, any strategy needs to look at the impact that an immediate reduction of coal-powered activity would have on energy security and on the livelihood of workers in coal-based or coal-related industries. To achieve the strategic goal of reducing emissions by 50% by the year 2030 a number of steps could be taken:
- Nationwide programs to identify the impact of closing polluting industries such as coal mines, coal-fired power plants etc. on the livelihood of affected workers (e.g., the 3.5 million coal workers) and intensified research to identify opportunities to establish “green technologies” or “green” economic opportunities based on local conditions. Such research would need to include a dialogue with affected communities in identifying the possibilities and designing the necessary training and reskilling programs to support workers’ transition into new jobs or encourage entrepreneurship by providing access to financing both for training or business ideas. A just transition can only succeed if affected communities and workers have the skills to make them re-employable, such as the installation of wind or solar farms.
- Policy or legislation should be developed to steer and enable regional and local governments to focus on green development goals and a just transition, by making it harder to fall back to coal for energy and job security. Mandatory Gross Ecological Product targets instead of Gross Domestic Product as a measure of development, financial policies that prioritize investment into “green” technologies and re-training of workers to suit new jobs could incentivize officials to make climate compliant choices. As long as local governments are measured by a domestic production output targets and externalities are not factored in, it will make it more lucrative and easier for them to fall back to the locally abundant resource of coal to foster economic development.
- Accelerated installation of renewable energy sources such as on- and off-shore wind and solar farms through investment promotion and policies facilitating permitting and setting up of e.g. wind mills. To a limited extend, modern nuclear technology, such as small modular nuclear reactors, could enhance energy security in the mid-term, however, given that the technology retains a certain degree of risk and the question of final disposal of radioactive waste remains unanswered, it should be used only where no better alternative is available. This should be coupled with investment into grid-improvement and battery storage to reduce curtailments and allow for energy from renewable sources to be stored and transported without loss. Other technology that could offer new job opportunities could arise from increased research into and application of Carbon Capture & Storage as well as Utilization (CCU) technologies, which could capture and temporarily remove emissions from its source where a change to cleaner energy is not immediately possible.
- Education to enable responsible consumption. Current consumption levels in the urban areas are high, both for products as well as food. Delivery staff on motor scooters delivering food in plastic containers are ubiquitous in any bigger city. While convenient, consumers must understand the impact of their action on the environment and on climate change.
China’s government will need to calculate and compare the economic and social costs of an accelerated fossil fuel exit to the costs of loss and damages due to compensation for damage from climate change and from rebuilding more resilient infrastructure every time. All investments into the energy, industrial, and agricultural infrastructure would need to be measured against a long-term outcome, both in terms of social justice as well as creating resilience to climate change. The nationwide Carbon Emissions Trading System can play an important part in presenting the real cost and value of all economic activity in China as gradually more and more economic activity will be reflected with a carbon price on this exchange. Funding from the trading system could in turn be used for further investment into green infrastructure and economic opportunity. The impact of reallocation of investment funding to activities aimed at weaning Chinese consumers and workers off coal could be measured against the number of workers having received training to reskill them, the rate of job transitions, and the quality and pay of jobs.
Another measure could be the acceleration rate of installation of renewable energy infrastructure, dropping prices due to scaling, the rate transition from fossil fuel to clean energy electrification of transport, building and industrial activity. And last but not least, China would have to step up monitoring efforts of carbon emissions at their source, to obtain real-time data that would help the government better steer their activities and investments.
China’s government already works with a broad range of national and international partners that inform its carbon neutrality strategy. Below are several representatives that are crucial in influencing the national climate strategy:
Hongbo Duan, Associate Professor, School of Economics & Management, University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences
He Jiankun, Dean Institute of Low Carbon Economy, Tsinghua University & National Climate Change Expert Committee
Jiang Kejun, Director of Energy Research Institute (ERI), National Development and Reform Commission, China
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager: Annette Wiedenbach