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Pull Together and Cooperate Closely for Win-Win: China’s Enhanced Actions on Climate Change

Aug 25, 2015

On June 30, the Chinese government communicated its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution: Enhanced Actions on Climate Change (hereinafter referred to as the INDC), to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (hereinafter referred to as the Convention), stipulating the targets of enhanced actions on climate change, including reaching a peak of carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 or even earlier, lowering the carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of GDP 60%-65% compared with 2005, increasing the share of non-fossil energy in total primary energy consumption to about 20% and increasing about 4.5 billion cubic meters of forest volume compared with 2005. It also stipulates the path as well as polices and measures for achieving the targets after 2020. This is not only the mission of China as a party to the Convention, but also a demonstration of the determination and attitude of the Chinese government, which declared that China will take the green, low carbon and cycle development path characterized by the transformation of growth, energy and consumption at home and abroad.

I    The INDC promotes the process of global response to climate change

China’s INDC is put forward on the basis of principles of the Convention, namely fairness, “common but differentiated responsibilities” and respective capabilities and with the consideration of its development stage, practical capabilities and other national conditions, and it will boost the global response to climate change.

By setting an achievable carbon-peak target, China has created conditions for the global limitation of greenhouse gases, and makes it possible for the world to reach the peak between 2020-2030. Achieving the goal of global temperature rise controlled within 2℃ is a political consensus of the parties to the Convention. According to the fifth assessment report of IPCC and the research by a number of international think tanks, it is an important condition to achieve the aforesaid goal that the global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2030 should be controlled in the range between the 2010 level and 40% lower than the 2010 level, indicating that the global emissions should peak during the 2020-2030 window. China is the world’s largest carbon emitter, and in the past, the major part of annual incremental global greenhouse gas emissions came from China. The Chinese government announced that China would reach a peak of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 with best efforts to reach peak early. This will further push the developed countries to aggressively reduce emissions, and entices more and more countries to take practical actions to reduce emissions. Accordingly, the possibility that the global greenhouse gas emissions will peak during 2020-2030 has been greatly increased.

Increasing the share of non-fossil energy is a practical action of low-carbon energy transformation, and helps to accelerate the low carbonization process of global energy system. China is the world’s biggest energy consumption country, and coal plays a dominant role in its energy consumption. In 2014, the total energy consumption reached as much as 4.26 billion tons of coal equivalent (tce), accounting for about a quarter of the world’s total consumption and the coal consumption accounted more than half of global coal consumption. If the share of non-fossil energy reaches 20% by 2030, it will mean that, during the next 16 years, the share of non-fossil energy will increase by 8.8%, and the net increase of non-fossil energy will be about 800 million tons. The use of the non-fossil energy of 100 million tce is equivalent to 250 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions avoided, and according to this calculation, it means that nearly 2 billion tons of carbon-dioxide emissions can be avoided each year. The implementation of this goal also will accelerate the development and use of non-fossil energy, including nuclear energy and renewable energy, providing a broad market for the innovation and development of non-fossil energy technology, promoting the energy transformation of all countries in the world, including China, and speeding up the ultimate replacement of fossil energy by non-fossil energy.


Achieving the goals of the INDC will promote the innovation of development ways, and provide other developing countries with reference to realize green, low-carbon and circular development. From the historical process of economic development of developed countries, no country has achieved the task of green and low carbon transformation in the process of industrialization and urbanization at the same time. The concept of low-carbon development appeared after the developed countries had completed the industrialization and urbanization. If China could realize the pathway innovation during its industrialization and urbanization and create a green and low-carbon development, a role model will be provided to other developing countries on how to coordinate and handle correctly the relationship between economic development and response to climate change.

II.    The INDC highlights the strength of the Chinese government’s actions on climate change

China is still a developing country, and is in the process of industrialization and urbanization, faced with multiple challenges from economic development, poverty elimination, livelihood improvement of the people, environmental protection, addressing climate change, etc. China’s INDC gives full consideration to national conditions, its development stage and abilities as well as its international responsibilities. It reflects China’s greatest efforts on addressing climate change, and conforms to the requirement of UNFCCC to the contracting party of a developing country. Even compared with the developed countries, China’s INDC reveals strength of effort.

According to the development stage, China will reach its emission peak earlier than the developed countries, with a lower level of per capita emissions. The European Union reached a stable emission peak with the GDP per capita of $20,000 (constant price in 2005, similarly hereinafter), the United States reached an unstable peak with the GDP per capita of around $40,000, and some other developed countries have not yet reached the peak even with the GDP per capita of $50,000. It is expected that China will achieve a comprehensive modernization at year 2050, and reach the peak around 2030. Hence China’s peak will come with GDP per capita of around $10,000, when it is still a developing country. On the other side, per capita emissions for the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom at the time of reaching their peaks are 19.5 tons, 14.1 tons and 11.3 tons respectively. And it is estimated that China’s per capita emissions will be less than 10 tons, which reflects the great effort behind China’s INDC.

Carbon intensity in China will decline faster than in most developed countries. China’s INDC requires that by 2030, the carbon intensity should be 60%-65% lower than that in 2005, which means that the average annual decline rate of carbon intensity during 2005-2030 must be maintained between 3.6% to 4.1%. The average annual decline rate of carbon intensity of the United States and the European Union were both about 2.3% since 1990, and that of the United Kingdom and Germany, which have performed noticeably well in low-carbon transformation, has been only 3% and 2.5% respectively. According to the economic forecast analysis of OECD, if the greenhouse gases in the United States could be reduced by 26%-28% in 2025 compared to 2005, its average annual decline rate of carbon intensity will be approximately 3.5%-3.6%; if the greenhouse gases in the European Union could be reduced by 40% in 2030 compared to 1990, its average annual decline rate of carbon intensity will be approximately 3.2% after 2005. It is suggested that as a developing country, even if compared with developed countries, the carbon-intensity goal of China’s INDC also is very strong.

Regarding non-fossil energy consumption, China’s target has the largest incremental growth. During 2005-2030, the proportion of non-fossil energy will be increased from 7.4% to 20%. By 2030, even if China’s energy consumption could be controlled within 6 billion tce, non-fossil energy consumption should still reach 1.2 billion tce, 1 billion tce more than that in 2005. The European Union plans that by 2030, renewable energy would account for 27%, 7 percentage points higher than that in China. However, if compared by absolute increment, the increase of EU’s non-fossil energy consumption is only 400 million tce more than that in 2005, about 600 million tce less than China. This suggests that the development goal of Chinese non-fossil energy consumption is also ambitious.

III    INDC meets the objective needs of China’s ecological civilization construction

Actively addressing climate change is the consistent position of the Chinese government. Whether in the concept of “taking a new road to industrialization” and “establishing two-oriented society” proposed during the 11th Five-Year Plan, or “ecological civilization construction” proposed recently, great importance is always attached to addressing climate change, and that is integrated into the national medium and long-term economic development plan. China’s INDC reflects this consistent policy and action on climate change, embodies the Chinese government’s determination to realize the green, low-carbonization transformation, as well as meeting people’s desire for “clear water, blue sky” and expectation of building a “Beautiful China”.

The INDC is a continuation of the Chinese government’ consistent policy on climate change. To address climate change and control greenhouse-gas emissions, the Chinese government has successively taken the increase of non-fossil energy ratio, the reduction of energy intensity and carbon intensity per unit of GDP as binding targets of the national economic development. By the end of 2014, the proportion of non-fossil energy in primary energy increased from 7.4% in 2005 to 11.2%, the energy consumption per unit of GDP reduced by 29.9% compared with that in 2005, and the carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP dropped by 33.8% compared with that in 2005. In 2014, non-fossil energy consumption reached 480 million tce, 2.5 times that in 2005, equaling 1.31 billion tce of energy-saving capacity between 2005 and 2014. It is expected that in 2020, the proportion of non-fossil energy will increase to 15%, and the carbon intensity per unit of GDP will drop 40%-45% compared with that in 2005, which will lay a firm foundation to realize the goals of 2030 proposed in China’s INDC.

The INDC could serve as a forcing factor to development mode transformation. To realize the goals of INDC, China needs to change the pattern of economic development, to optimize the energy structure, and to establish the concept of green consumption that is “resource-conserving and environment-friendly”. Therefore, whether to achieve the emission-peak goal or to increase of non-fossil energy ratio, there is strong need to increase low-carbon investment and improve green supply. To expand non-fossil energy consumption requires increasing installed capacity of nuclear power 100 million kW, hydro power 150 million kW, solar power 300 million kW and wind power 400 million kW during 2016-2030, forming an enormous industry system of low-carbon development. By that time, China’s annual energy output of non-fossil energy will reach 4 trillion kWh, equivalent of the total energy output of the United States. According to the preliminary estimate of the NCSC, in the next 16 years the total investment on energy efficiency improvement, non-fossil energy deployment and low-carbon industry such as carbon capture, utilization and sequestration will be more than 40 trillion, forming an industrial scale of 23 trillion and contributing more than 16% to GDP. Therefore, the INDC is also a great contribution to China’s green development.

The INDC conforms to people’s urgent desire to build “Beautiful China”. Since the reform and opening up, while China’s rapid economy development has continuously improved people’s living standard, it has also caused serious environmental problems, such as rapidly growing energy consumption, high CO2 emissions, high pollution, etc. The pollution of air, water, and soil continues to grow worse, and especially as air pollution becomes a stringent threat to people’s hearts and lungs, to pursue “clear water, blue sky” has become the Chinese people’s extravagant hope. The significant improvement in environment quality is not only an arduous task faced by Chinese development before 2030, but also a basic requirement to realize China’s comprehensive modernization in 2050. To achieve the goals set in the INDC not only can help China effectively control greenhouse gas emissions and make due contributions to address global climate change, with optimization of the energy structure by reducing fossil energy consumption such as coal and oil, it also significantly reduce the emissions of all kinds of pollutants, and lay a good foundation to improve the ecological environment especially the air quality.

IV   Combating climate change needs global efforts

In the face of the complicated situation that surrounds combating climate change globally, China’s national leader, Xi Jinping, puts forward the concept of “Human Common Destiny”, advocating cooperation and mutual benefits, shared responsibility and rights, as well as joint efforts to solve the problems faced by human beings. The Climate Change Agreement in Paris should embrace this concept as ground rules, and encourage all parties to build consensus, take actions and establish a global climate change governance system built upon the INDCs put forward by all countries. At the same time, all the countries are encouraged to carry out efforts in the following aspects:

Lead and work together in promoting global cooperation in pushing forward green and low-carbon development. China attaches great importance to international cooperation in addressing climate change and always actively participates in international climate negotiations. China hopes every party could work in accordance with the convention principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions, and build consensus upon the INDCs to successfully reach agreement on Paris Climate Change Conference as an important step to build a global climate change governance system characterized by fairness and equality, practicality and effectiveness, as well as cooperation and win-win. Since last year, China has successively issued joint statements on climate change with the United States, Brazil, India and the European Union, discussing respective goals and actions on addressing climate change and promotion of low carbon development. China has also declared to establish south-south cooperation fund on climate change to help developing countries combat climate change. These actions show China’s constructive attitude in seeking development, promoting cooperation and pursuing win-win relationships with other countries, which will provide new impetus for countries around the world to continuously work together and conduct deeper and broader cooperation in green and low-carbon development.

Start the green and low-carbon journey with earnest implementation and joint actions. INDCs committed by the Parties and even the Paris Agreement are just milestones in the cause of international cooperation on combating global climate change. The actions to achieve their goals and the practice of green and low-carbon development are most important in the future. We should fully understand the differences in the capacity of combating climate change of each country and the different challenges they face. Therefore, we cannot require every country achieve their goals simultaneously but should encourage countries to take cooperative actions and to widely join in the ‘marathon’ of global green and low-carbon transition. We should avoid criticism and blame but promote learning and help each other. We should stride forward towards the “low carbon” terminal continuously. Only in this way can the global climate change issue can be properly solved.

Achieve sustainable development through win-win cooperation and take shared responsibilities and benefits.The core of the international climate regime should be a positive competition mechanism to promote low-carbon development rather than a confrontation mechanism. The Paris Agreement should keep up with the global trends of green and low-carbon development, and form new competition mechanisms and rules to meet the environmental goals of the international climate agreement but also to raise the competitiveness of sustainable development of a country. The burdens and challenges of combating climate change ideally will become development opportunities and motivations. It will also create a new phase of joint actions and win-win cooperation. The developed countries should actively practice green and low-carbon development, promote the innovation of development pathways and climate-friendly technologies, and help developing countries transition to green and low-carbon resources. The developing countries should also make good use of late-mover advantage, take combating climate change as an important impetus of a technology and industrial revolution, employment expansion and sustainable economic expansion to eventually achieve sustainable development together with all partners.

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