Status: 06.03.2021 6:48 a.m.
China’s leadership likes to be ambitious in its five-year plans – especially in the area of economics. When it comes to climate protection, however, the KP’s goals seem less ambitious.
What China does affects the planet’s climate more than any other country: a good quarter of all man-made greenhouse gases are produced in China. China is also the country that has weathered the corona slump like no other: economic growth recovered so strongly in the second half of the year that CO2 emissions for 2020 as a whole were 1.5 percent higher than in 2019.
But China is also a member of the Paris Agreement on climate protection – and shares the common goal of doing everything possible to limit the rise in global temperature to well below two degrees. Surprisingly, President Xi Jinping announced in September that his country aims to reduce CO2 emissions before 2030 and to operate in a CO2-neutral manner by 2060. Since then, the partners in international climate protection have been waiting to see how this vague announcement will be translated into concrete policy. The crucial first step: the new five-year plan that has now been presented. But there is great disillusionment among experts.
No upper limit for coal burning
“Disappointing”, says Bill Hare, head of the think tank “Climate Analytics”, the plan: China is sticking very strongly to coal, oil and gas as energy sources, he criticizes. Although Xi’s announcements from September were repeated, expectations that the gigantic empire could aim for the highest level of emissions before 2030 have not been fulfilled.
In the five-year plan there is neither an absolute figure for greenhouse gas emissions nor an upper limit for the use of coal, for example. This is also the worst news, according to Kelly Sims Gallagher, president of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
The most important specific figure in the new five-year plan is an old acquaintance from the forerunner: The CO2 intensity is to drop again by 18 percent. This means that the relationship between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions should improve. But that says nothing about the absolute level of emissions – because if more is produced, the bottom line can still lead to higher pollution of the atmosphere. And China continues to focus on growth; Contrary to all expectations, Xi has even formulated a specific growth target for this year: China should emerge from the Corona crisis with a GDP plus of six percent.
Renewable energies and nuclear power, but also a lot of coal
The share of renewable energies in the energy supply is to increase further: from 15.9 to 20 percent. According to climate expert Susanne Dröge at the Science and Politics Foundation, this is good news. “Renewable energies remain a strategic sector for China,” she says. Nuclear energy is also to be expanded by 2025: around 40 percent more capacity is planned during this time. However, nuclear power plants currently account for less than five percent of the Chinese electricity supply.
Otherwise, the government continues to rely on coal: China extracts and burns around half of the world’s coal – and it continues to rely on a “clean and efficient” use of this energy source. “Clean coal, i.e. the separation of CO2, is associated with many uncertainties and costs,” says Dröge. And new power plants also meant that greenhouse gases would continue to be produced for years and decades to come.
But China is counting on technological progress in most areas and on the fact that a solution to this problem will be found and that it will become easier to achieve the medium and long-term goals. The motto seems to be: research now, climate protection later. Research expenditures should increase by seven percent every year – that is a clearly anchored goal in the new five-year plan.
Will Beijing add more later?
Zhang Shuwei, chief economist at the Draworld environmental research center based in Beijing, sums it up: “The world expects China to jump, but it just crawls.” But Li Shuo, climate protection expert from Greenpeace, also points out that the government tends to set lower goals than those that are actually possible. Because that increases the chance that these goals will then be “overachieved”.
This has already been the case with the relative CO2 intensity in the past five years: 18 percent was the target here too – and 18.6 percent was achieved in the end. In addition, detailed plans for individual sectors are expected in the course of the year. Other important requirements could be anchored in this.
Beijing will probably also submit its revised national voluntary commitment (NDC) to the UN climate secretariat in the coming weeks. This will define his contribution to the Paris Agreement by 2030. However, the new five-year plan leaves little room for further commitments.