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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

China’s Bold Climate Action Plan

Air Date: Week of

One of President Xi’s pledges involves increasing China’s forest stock by 6 billion cubic meters, as compared to their 2005 levels. (Photo: Yunastic, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

President Xi Jinping of China made some of the most ambitious pledges at the UN’s Climate Summit, promising to cut the proportion of China’s carbon dioxide emissions in its economy by two thirds over the coming decade, increase its wind and solar energy capacities to more than 1,200 gigawatts, and grow China’s forest stock, among other green targets. Ranping Song, the Developing Country Climate Action Manager for the World Resources Institute, joins Host Steve Curwood for insight on these pledges.


CURWOOD: Now turning back to China, the boldest commitments unveiled at the Climate Ambition Summit came from President Xi Jinping. He promised to cut the CO2 intensity in China’s economy by two thirds over the coming decade, and at the same time increase China’s wind and solar energy capacities to more than 1,200 gigawatts. President Xi also pledged to add six billion tons of wood to China’s forests and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. For more insight we turn now to Ranping Song, the Developing Country Climate Action Manager for the World Resources Institute. He’s on the line now from New York City. Ranping – welcome to Living on Earth!

SONG: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now some folks say that China could in fact, stop increasing its emissions as soon as two or three years from today. How accurate is that perception?

SONG: I think there's merit to that analysis. And we believe that you know, what China announced as a target is the modest down payment for the country out towards the long term vision. But definitely the country could do more. Our own analysis indicates that stabilized carbon emissions could happen as soon as 2023. And then emission can be peaked as early as 2026. And then the carbon intensity reduction in 2030, can go all the way to 73%. But then, having that in the context; in the 2020 target, China already beat its own targets by 3% points by the end of this year. So, China actually has a record of beating its own targets, so China could do more. But then I think that China still has opportunities and has a potential to do more.

CURWOOD: Talk to me about the cultural part here, it seems to me that in China, they'd rather have a lower target that they exceed, than come in short.

SONG: Yeah, I think this is part of their expectation management. You want to outperform your expectation to impress people, of course, and that's also part of the current culture, right? So, it's always leaning towards the conservative, rather than maximize your potential. What's important here is the government sending the signal to the country that you know, this is the way to go. Long term, the destination is clear, it has to go to net zero emissions by 2060. And hopefully, that will be a clear and loud message to you know, companies and then provincial and city officials and residents and consumers. And that will drive change.

CURWOOD: So, China has twice the emissions now of the United States. And the other major emitters combined kind of equal China, how important is it for China to get support from other countries at this stage to keep advancing things?

SONG: China actually is not asking for a lot of direct money to go into the country to support its low carbon vision, they are motivated by the country's own aspiration, because they understand this is their economic future. They understand that this is the way that to become the economic powerhouse. So, they're not asking for money, per se, to realize that, but they're asking for the world to become more cooperative, you know, in terms of technology, in terms of global trade. So we can work together to achieve that end goal, rather than you know, isolated, you know, different countries doing its own thing. So I think that China is actually looking forward to more international cooperation, but then they are not asking for direct financing.

China’s first public declaration of its intent to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 was made by President Xi Jinping in October of 2020. (Photo: Paul Kagame, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

CURWOOD: When we talk about reducing emissions, we're most often looking at sort of industrial processes that generate CO2, but the loss of forests around the world is equal to about a third of the current emissions these days. What do you make of President Xi's commitment to protect forests in China? How big a commitment is that?

SONG: I think that's along the line of what the country wants to see going forward. So as part of China's so-called Beautiful China vision, they want to see that the country's become a very environmentally friendly society that you know, people get to enjoy. There's actually there's a lot of area that China was trying to do restoration efforts, northwest of Beijing. So the 6 billion cubic meters increase of forest stock from '05 levels, is more or less in line with what the country is going towards for its domestic agenda.

CURWOOD: So, President Xi talked about carbon dioxide, what about the other greenhouse gases that are pretty powerful? I'm thinking methane, and then there's some nitrogen compounds. And then there's some small but really potent industrial compounds as well.

SONG: Yes, I'm really glad that you asked, because those so-called non-CO2 gases are actually a very significant part of China's emission, it's around 16%. It's small compared to the CO2. If those emissions were country alone, it will be the seventh emission parties, equal in size with Germany or Brazil, actually. So, many of those sources have real low-cost mitigation measures China can take. At the same time, they can, you know, help to improve the air quality, to help to improve the economics of many of those industries. We are not seeing that at the moment for China's announcement, but we are hopeful that China will take action and hopefully will add those targets. Especially if China wants to go to net zero all the way by 2060, then these emissions need to be addressed and mitigated early on.

CURWOOD: So, talk to me about the various the provinces in China there, there are some 23 and some, of course, are far more advanced in an industrial economy than others. How has President Xi and his team set the targets for reaching carbon neutrality with those various provinces?

Ranping Song is the Developing Country Climate Action Manager for the World Resources Institute. (Photo: Courtesy of the World Resources Institute)

SONG: Because the carbon neutrality is recently announced as a national target, there's no provincial target yet, except for Hong Kong committed to go to carbon neutral by 2050. But then around 73% provinces or cities have already set their emission peaking targets, and usually earlier than the national targets. So, that is a really good and hopeful sign. And then also, I think it's really important to see that, you know, usually the more economic developed regions, the provinces and cities, they're more willing to take ambitious action, just because they see this as a way for them to grow the economy. And once they did that, it will provide a greater sense of momentum and competition, because all the provinces want to see their own jurisdiction to become more developed places, like, you know, in Beijing, in Shanghai. So that will become a very powerful pull from the rest of the provinces to commit to a more ambitious target over time.

CURWOOD: The Paris process of having each country determine its own commitments of reduction, some people call the naming and shaming approach, how effective in the long term do you think this is going to be, to keep us from falling far deeper than we can handle into the climate emergency?

SONG: I think they will have some merit. We have some reputation race, definitely plays some role in country's decision on what to do. But again, the Paris Agreement is about opportunities. It's about enlightening countries to realize its economic and social development. So, it's not about you know, if you don't do this, shame on you, although there may be some element of that. But then the most important question is how to make sure you understand this is good for your economy, good for your, sort of benefits, good for jobs, good for your health. And for that reason alone, that's enough for you to do something and then to transform the world to net zero emission trajectory, and then realize the Paris Agreement goals. So, it may not sound very intuitive from the get go. But then we are seeing that's the only way to work, because we don't have an effective mechanism to punish countries for not doing something. And the only thing that we can move countries to do is make them understand this is for their own sake.

CURWOOD: Ranping Song is the World Resources Institute Developing Country Climate Action Manager, Ranping, thanks so much for taking the time with us today.

SONG: Thank you, Steve.



The World Resources Institute

The World Resources Institute | “Accelerating the Net-Zero Transition: Strategic Action for China’s 14th Five-Year Plan”

More on Ranping Song


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