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China's Low-Carbon Revolution

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By Scott Vaughan, November 25, 2016

There has been lots of speculation since the election in the United States about the consequences of a diminished at best, or obstructionist at worst, role of the US in climate action.

At the same time, many have been begun wondering about Beijing's ascendency as a global leader both on trade and climate policy.

In reality, China had been moving ahead years before the election with higher ambition, tighter deadlines and wider coverage. The most recent example is a State Council directive (number 61) issued in October, which sets out to advance a 'low-carbon revolution' through a number of detailed targets. These include:

First, by 2020 capping its energy use to 5 billion tons of standard coal equivalent (i.e. the energy generated from burning 5 billion tons of coal), reducing total energy consumption per unit of GDP by 15 per cent, and capping large scale power generation to 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. 

Second, require energy efficiency standards in key sectors such as industry, construction, transportation and public institutions, and meet targets for renewable energy that include 200 million kilowatt hours of installed wind capacity and 100 million kilowatt hours of solar.

Third, by 2020 limit total coal consumption to 4.2 billion tons, still a staggering figure but a significant reduction compared to a business as usual scenario.

Fourth, make low-carbon development the 'new normal' for all industrial restructuring, and reduce CO2 emissions per unit of industrial added value by 22 pe rcent by 2020 compared to 2015.

And fifth, accelerate low-carbon agriculture, including peaking chemical fertilizer inputs by 2020, pilot low-carbon livestock management, and expand carbon sinks by increasing the national forest coverage rate to 23 percent by 2020, as well as enhancing wetland restoration and carbon sinks capacity.

These are some of the highlights; there are other major pieces of the national plan. Also included are new regulations for a carbon emissions trading system, and steps to consolidate sector-specific, national and sub-national carbon markets under a single nationwide carbon trading market by 2020. The plan also comprises a GHG disclosure system for all companies, calling for state-owned enterprises and listed companies to take the lead.

Finally China reiterated in its October 2016 plan, and again in Marrakech, that it will remain deeply committed to the Paris Agreement.

China‚Äôs climate plan reinforces its pivot to a green economy, which is well underway. Today it is the largest issuer of green bonds in the world and continues to pioneer green financial products, services and principles.

Like all plans, the test will be in its sustained implementation and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The urgency of climate science means other countries need to set out similar comprehensive, time-bound climate revolutions.