China is often referred to as the scapegoat for anthropogenic global warming. Its representatives at COP27 have nevertheless reaffirmed their determination to take part in the fight. In fact, what is it really?
China is a behemoth. One of the largest countries on the planet which weighs with all its weight on the world economy and which also emits, on its own, almost a third of the gasgas greenhouse gases that are disrupting our climate: in 2017, some 10 billion tonnes equivalent carbon dioxidecarbon dioxide (tCO2e). i.e. 27% of emissionsemissions world. While France only accounts for around 1% of these same emissions…
These figures explain why, when it comes to the fight against anthropogenic global warming, it is very naturally to China that all eyes turn. The International Agency forenergyenergy (AIE) brings an interesting precision in the mattermatter : almost 90% of China’s greenhouse gas emissions — and close to 50% of its CO2 emissions2 — are produced by the energy sector!
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China produces more than half of the steel and cement in the world. CO emissions2 of these sectors are greater than the total CO emissions2 of the European Union.
It must be said that since 2005, energy consumption in the country has simply doubled. China is the second largest consumer of oiloil in the world. On the electricity side, more than 60% of production remains provided by coal-fired power plants. Undoubtedly the most polluting of all. Worse, new coal-fired power plants continue to be built. Even though without additional investments, a “business as usual” would already lead to the emission of 175 gigatonnes of CO2 by 2060. That is a third of the remaining global carbon budget if we hope to maintain the global warmingglobal warming anthropogenic below 1.5°C.
The fact that President Xi Jinping has decided not to take part in COP27, the 27e Conference of the signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, adds a little more to the temptation to designate the country guilty of all (or almost) the ills of our climate.
Some, however, call for not drawing too hasty conclusions on the matter. Reduced to the quantities of CO2 emitted per capita, China is indeed a little more within the norm. While the global average is around 4.4 tCO2 per year and per capita, China arrives at around 7 tCO2. That’s twice less than… the United States. With all the same a trend which remains upward for the first and which is downward for the second. But, historically, it is the United States and Europe that have contributed the most to the increase in the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere: 25 and 22% respectively since the middle of the 18the century against less than 13% for China.
This is also what the country defends: as the first historical contributors to global warming, developed countries must be the first to provide mitigation efforts. However, China has really begun to sweep in front of its gategatetaking his energetic transitionenergetic transition head on.
China in full energy transition
Let us first note that the energy intensity — the energy consumption reduced to the gross domestic productgross domestic product — from China has already declined significantly. The IEA estimates that the increase in consumption in the country should reach a plateau before 2030.
At the same time, President Xi Jinping announced last year that his country’s coal production peak would be reached in 2025. China has since committed to phasing out coal by 2050. already to no longer operate mines abroad. The cooperation projects that the country is developing today on the African side, in particular, mainly concern hydroelectric dams. Solar and wind projects too.
Because it is of course on renewable energies that China is betting. It produces itself enough to exploit solar and wind energy. It invested in the sector between 2015 and 2021, almost as much as all of the so-called advanced economies. As a result, the additions of photovoltaic solar capacity — sometimes with great blows of expropriation of landland — have surpassed those of any other country in China. Shanxi province, the main coal producer in the country, has thus covered itself with renewable means of production. For about five years, plus 63% solar generation capacity per year and plus 24% wind generation capacity. A rhythm that leaves you dreaming.
Today, renewable energies account for almost 30% of the country’s electricity production. The announced objective being to further multiply the country’s production – mainly solar and wind – by seven by 2060 – and compared to 2020. All this while hoping to reach a peak in its emissions in 2030 and the carbon neutralitycarbon neutrality in 2060 — a little late, though, if we hope to keep global warming within the bounds of the Paris Climate Accord.
Can we trust China for this? Based on the previous objectives that the country had set itself: most likely yes! Over the period 2011-2015, for example, China had planned to install 21 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic capacity. The country has installed nearly 45. The same situation for the period 2016-2020. China had targeted 110 GW and finally installed no less than 253!
China has also just presented a new plan to limit its emissions of methane (CH4), alongside CO2, another potent greenhouse gas. It must be said that the country is also the largest emitter in the world. In question: the gas which escapes during the exploitation of coal – that which the experts call the methane of coal –, but also the breeding and the rice growing. Fugitive emissions not easy to control. Among the avenues considered, there is still the use of coal bed methane, which is already giving reasons for satisfaction in the north of the country.
China, finally, is not the last to support energy transition projects abroad. And even to release funds for loss and damage. Thus assuming part of its responsibility in the situation of climate crisis in which the world finds itself today. Beijing, for example, has just announced its willingness to pay 14 billion dollars to help Pakistan after the terrible floodsfloods experienced by the country in this summer of 2022.