In a government statement, China pledged to cut their net carbon emissions to zero by 2060, an ambitious move from a country that contributes 28% of the global total per year – more than the USA and EU combined.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told the UN that emissions will peak before 2030 before showing a steady decline over the following three decades. Climate experts reacted warmly to the news, saying it may inspire other countries to do the same. But how exactly will China do it? And will it be enough?
China’s current output and the problems it causes
China’s announcement came as a surprise because, quite simply, China is currently the world’s biggest co2 polluter, depending on coal for over half of its energy consumption. It even expanded its coal-based energy capacity in 2019, building new plants around the country, and has plans to expand further in the near future.
However, there is a growing concern that these plans are going to be a costly failure. Many coal plants run at less than 50% capacity and the companies behind them are shedding money at an alarming rate - to such an extent that many plants face closure.
There’s also the inescapable evidence of climate change and the ruinous effect of coal. Scientific and economic evidence states that coal is dirty, expensive and simply less efficient than most renewable energy sources.
If China truly want to become a dominant global power, then it will have to wean itself of its coal dependency, like many advanced economies did some time ago. New Zealand and Sweden, for example, contribute zero coal to the globe’s overall consumption — while China accounts for half of it.
To carry out such bold statements as their 2060 zero emission plan, the Chinese government is going to have to take swift action to get the country on track.
A five-year move towards renewable energy
Five years. A period of time that has been the basis of the Chinese government’s planning since the early days of the socialist republic back in the 1950s.
So it follows that the government plan makes the energy sector a key part of their future five-year plans. The first of those, accounting for the period between 2021 and 2025, targets an economic growth rate of 5-6% and experts expect it to include strict measures towards using clean energy. Central to these is a boost to 300 Gigawatts (GW) - 300 billion watts – of solar energy and 150GW of wind power.
It forms part of a long-term plan of action that will take the country toward its carbon-zero goal. A research group at Tsinghua University released a detailed 30-year plan in September, setting out $15 trillion project that would switch the country from fossil fuels to renewable power by 2050. The final steps would target an 80% reliance on electricity by 2060.
If the Chinese government executes these plans to their full extent, then the aim of zero carbon emissions starts to look realistic. With a compliant public and a strong culture of teamwork, China is one of the best countries in the world at meeting communal targets, so such plans offer promising signs of what the country can achieve in the future.
The technology race
Government-led initiatives aren’t the only contributing factors towards achieving zero carbon emissions. In a social context, consumer habits are also changing quicker than ever before. People are just as likely to shop online now as visit a shopping mall, or order home takeaway instead of eating at a restaurant.
While there may be negative social consequences involved in this, there is also a race to provide the technology to cater to this growing market.
The advent of 5G promises to revolutionise the world as we know it. While we can do most things online now, rapid technological advancements mean that we won’t need to leave our house to experience the thrill of a live event, whether it be enjoying a movie in 3D or playing in an online casino that feels more and more like the real thing thanks to advancements like live-dealer games. With an emphasis on home entertainment, citizens will travel less, meaning lower pollution levels, especially in terms of car journeys.
China aims to be among the front-runners when it comes to 5G technology. While there are certain restrictions on what users can do online, compared to the Western world, the Chinese government has repeatedly announced ambitious plans to speed up the installation of the tech. According to one report, the government has built nearly half a million 5G base stations, with over 100 million devices already connected.
While increased energy consumption is a concern, there’s a growing belief that 5G could have significantly reduce carbon emissions in the long-term, with some even asking if it could save the planet. While that might be stretching the point a little, we could see a marked difference in the output of leading polluters such as China due to their 5G commitments.
Will it be enough?
China’s target was met with enthusiasm by scientists and climate experts around the world, but there’s still a question over whether even this drastic action will be enough to slow down the effects of climate change. Already the world is seeing more intense weather sequences, such as deadly heatwaves and super storms, which scientists say are the direct consequence of a changing environment.
To add to that, major political moves, such as the world’s biggest economy withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, create a sense of disconnection between countries at a time when unity is essential. It is only through co-operation that the world can tackle climate change on a global scale, and even China’s ambitious targets could prove insignificant if the rest of the world don’t follow suit.
However, the bottom line is that a goal of zero emissions in 2060 for one of the world’s biggest polluters is a surprising, yet welcome, piece of news, and moves such as this are crucial if the world is to avoid an environmental catastrophe.