China will soon announce the actions it will take after 2020 to combat climate change, Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli said at a United Nations climate change summit on Sept 23 in New York.
Experts said the announcement signals the country’s willingness to take concrete steps to address global warming.
“It’s the first time that China has given a clear message to the international community about its post-2020 goals and a time frame for a peak in emissions,” said Zou Ji, a professor at the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation.
Asked at a news briefing on Sept 23 when China’s carbon emissions will peak, top climate change negotiator Xie Zhenhua said the country has been conducting research and hopes the findings can be announced in the first half of 2015.
China has so far committed to curbing dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40 percent to 45 percent compared with 2005.
However, when China’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak remains a controversial issue, and the nation’s academics have yet to reach a consensus.
“We need to set premises when calculating the peak time and a wide range of factors could affect the result, among which a key indicator is China’s economic growth rate. China’s economy is slowing and it’s hard to forecast China’s economic trends for the coming decade as there are so many uncertainties domestically and internationally,” said Zou.
Jennifer Morgan, director of climate and energy programs at Washington-based World Resources Institute, said, “China’s remarks at the climate summit go further than ever before.”
“Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli’s announcement to strive to peak emissions ‘as early as possible’ is a welcome signal for the cooperative action we need for the Paris Agreement,” Morgan said.
Domestic air pollution is forcing the country to move away from coal, and 2014 saw the lowest growth in coal consumption in a decade, said Li Shuo, senior climate and energy policy officer of Greenpeace.
Yang Fuqiang, a senior adviser with the Nature Resources Defense Council’s China program, said the government was becoming increasingly ambitious in reducing its coal consumption, a major cause of China’s carbon emissions and environmental problems.
If China doesn’t cap its coal consumption and merely relies on market mechanisms, it could take 30 to 40 years to adjust its energy mix, Yang said, and both the environment and people’s health cannot risk taking no action.
Speaking before Zhang at the same session, US President Barack Obama said US and China have a “special responsibility” to lead efforts in tackling climate change as the world’s two largest economies.
“We have a responsibility to lead,” Obama said. “That’s what big nations have to do.”
Obama and Zhang met on the sidelines of the summit before they made their speeches.
“The strong back-to-back statements by the two largest emitters send a clear signal that both countries will work seriously to put in place climate solutions domestically and reach an ambitious international agreement in Paris next year,” Morgan said.
“President Obama’s climate efforts and speech today are welcome, but we can do much more to reduce carbon pollution in the United States and help communities around the world deal with the impacts of climate change,” said Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.
“So far, the Obama administration continues to allow the fossil fuel industry to undermine efforts to address climate change by mining and drilling for coal, oil, and gas from our public lands and waters, unlocking huge quantities of carbon pollution,” she said.
Amy He in New York contributed to this story.