China Think Tank Calls for Early Emissions Cap in 2025, But Banks Continue Funding Coal
China is sending out decidedly mixed signals on its climate and energy strategy, with an influential think tank calling for the country to cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, five years ahead of schedule, but the country’s financial institutions delivering at least US$1 billion in “green” financing to coal-related projects in the first six months of this year.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, China agreed to cap its world-leading greenhouse gas emissions “around 2030”. But last week, a report by the government-run National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC) “warned the goal might not be within reach unless absolute limits on carbon emissions are included in the nation’s 2021-2025 five-year plan,” Reuters reports. “On a ‘business as usual’ trajectory, annual CO2 emissions would grow from 11 gigatonnes in 2020 to 14.3 gigatonnes in 2030, and would still be rising.”
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But in another scenario put forward by the NCSC, emissions would stabilize at 10.6 Gt in 2025 and be held at that level in the five years that followed. “Tougher measures could also keep per capita emissions at 7.2 tonnes by 2030, lower than the ‘business as usual’ level of 8.3 tonnes,” the news agency states.
The think tank sees “room for big improvements” in a set of climate policies that have focused heavily on the energy, construction, and transportation sectors, to the detriment of consumer-related emissions, Reuters adds. The report calls for deeper cuts in energy use per unit of GDP, a faster phaseout of coal-fired electricity production, and “even tougher efficiency, waste heat and fuel economy standards”.
But days later, a separate report suggested China’s financial institutions aren’t getting the memo. “According to Shanghai-based financial data provider Wind, ¥7.4 billion (US$1.1 billion) in green corporate and financial bonds were issued by 13 coal projects in the first half of the year,” Reuters notes. “They involved power plants fueled by coal or coalbed methane, as well as coal-to-chemical projects.”
China has cut coal from 68.5% of its electricity mix in 2012 to 59% today, with a target of 50% by 2030. “But overall capacity is still set to grow even as it falls as a share of the total, and China also needs to upgrade existing mines and plants,” Reuters explains. “Thus, while many global financial institutions have said they will no longer fund coal projects, their Chinese counterparts have not followed suit.” That helps explain why one-quarter of the country’s green bonds failed to meet international criteria last year, according to the non-profit Climate Bonds Initiative.
“Coal is obviously never green,” Liu Junyan, senior climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia, told Reuters. “The alleged purpose for ‘clean coal tech’ is to address the environment risk posed by the coal industry, but for some of these methods, the ‘clean coal’ risk is even greater than the original problem.”
China’s greenhouse gas reductions to date have been motivated in large part by local health concerns—and the public outcry those problems have generated. But a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says the country’s efforts to curb air pollution “will likely become increasingly difficult as the planet warms,” InsideClimate News reports.
“Increased heat waves and more periods of stagnant air resulting from global warming will worsen existing air pollution across much of China, the scientists concluded,” InsideClimate states. “This presents a heightened challenge for a country already choking on airborne pollutants that cause more than one million premature deaths there each year.”
“For Chinese policy-makers working to improve current air quality and protect public health, our finding is a daunting conclusion, and one that underscores the need to tackle the challenges of both climate change mitigation and air quality at the same time,” the study stated.
“Stagnant air masses are in a way the worst conditions for air pollution to really bite,” explained study author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director emeritus of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “It is a bit like the 19th century when the London smog happened, because it was a combination of the pollution from the chimneys and the factories and the other thing was the atmospheric conditions.”