China to Take Over From America as World Leader on Climate Change

Air emissions and global warming

China has signalled they will take the lead in world climate change, hitting out at President Donald Trump for dismantling the environmental legacy of Barack Obama.

The executive order signed by Trump on Tuesday will, amongst other things, begin to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the most significant part of the United States’ pushback on climate change, and it beings the abandonment of the Trump administration to their country’s commitment to the Paris agreement of 2015.

A major concern of this was that the behaviour of the Americans would discourage the likes of India and China from working towards their agreed targets as well, but for China at least, the opposite now looks true.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said at a news conference in Beijing that all countries in the Paris agreement should “fulfil their commitments," and said that China would stick to pledges “regardless of how other countries’ climate polices changed."

China to Take Over From America as World Leader on Climate Change

New York City

China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, consuming as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and in the past had been continually implored by the Obama administration to make firm commitments to limit their impact on the global climate.

Now, it looks like China will be taking to the lifeguard’s chair. Speaking to the New York Times, Barbara Finamore, a senior lawyer and Asia director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, said: “They’ve set the direction they intend to go in the next five years. Its’ clear they intent to double down on bringing down their reliance on coal and increasing their use of renewable energy.

“China wants to take the role of the US as a climate leader and they’ve baked it into their five-year plan."

Just because they are stepping up though, doesn’t mean they are happy about it. The state media in China has hit out at Trump’s orders, with a tabloid writing that: “No matter how hard Beijing tries, it won’t be able to take on all the responsibilities that Washington refuses to take."

China to Take Over From America as World Leader on Climate Change

China to Take Over From America as World Leader on Climate Change

“Washington is obliged to set an example for mankind’s efforts against global warming, and now the Trump administration has become the first government of a major power to take opposite actions on the Paris Agreement. It is undermining the great cause of mankind trying to protect the earth, and the move is indeed irresponsible and very disappointing."

They have called Trump’s decision-making “political selfishness" and written “China will remain the world’s biggest developing country for a long time. How can it be expected to sacrifice its own development space for those developed western powerhouses?"

“How can China be expected to sacrifice its own development space for those developed western powerhouses?"

Similarly, Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace based in Beijing, told The Guardian: “China is not the kind of leader in terms of climate change that will pull other countries along. The Chinese government will only commit to targets it is very comfortable delivering and it needs to work with other major countries. China won’t strike out on its own."

It is also possible that powers in the coal industry will push back against the Chinese government’s bid to reduce their coal-use on the back of America’s move.

Ratcliffe coal fired power station

Ratcliffe coal fired power station

The burning of coal in China generates huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, and the cut-down of their coal addiction is an absolute necessity – though their leaders have pledged to move towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, and actively acknowledge the existence of climate change.

China has already limited the use of coal in the three most populated centres of the country due to the serious air pollution crisis.

Beijing plans to meet the Chinese national air quality standards by 2013, but these levels are still three and a half times higher than recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Research suggesting that coal use is already declining in China though suggests the country may be able to reach a carbon emissions peak in 2025, much earlier than their 2030 target. The country has also made pledges on renewable energy sources including hydropower, nuclear power, wind and solar.

China is also looking to put into place a national market for greenhouse gas quotas, which would put a price on carbon and impose a cost on companies that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide.

China had stated that by 2020, 58 percent of its energy would come from coal consumption, but they look set to get that number down 60 this year.

The country is the world leader in domestic investment in renewable energy and low-emissions-energy sectors, with $103 billion invested in 2015 and a further $32 billion invested last year in overseas deals.

China sees investment in climate change and the planet as rightly essential in both securing their future and establishing themselves as the supplier of the technologies we will use to provide energy in the future. The Trump administration meanwhile continues to deny or ignore climate change, and is actively pushing to grow the coal trade.

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