Connect with us

As the US rolls back its climate change policies, China is positioned to lead



As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called on nations to step up their plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Every country has a part to play, but if the world’s largest emitters fail to meet their commitments, the goal of holding global warming to a manageable level will remain out of reach.


U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise after several years of decline, due in part to the Trump administration’s repeal or delay of Obama administration policies. In contrast, China – the world largest emitter – appears to be honoring its climate targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement, as we documented in a recent article with colleagues.

We study many aspects of China’s energy and climate policy, including industrial energy efficiency and reforestration. Our analysis indicates that if China fully executes existing policies and finishes reforming its electric power sector into a market-based system, its carbon dioxide emissions are likely to peak well before its 2030 target.

China’s climate portfolio

Over the last decade China has positioned itself as a global leader on climate action through aggressive investments and a bold mix of climate, renewable energy, energy efficiency and economic policies. As one of us (Kelly Sims Gallagher) documents in the recent book “Titans of the Climate,” China has implemented more than 100 policies related to lowering its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Notable examples include a feed-in-tariff policy for renewable energy generators, which offers them a guaranteed price for their power; energy efficiency standards for power plants, motor vehicles, buildings and equipment; targets for energy production from non-fossil sources; and mandated caps on coal consumption.


China has added vast wind and solar installations to its grid and developed large domestic industries to manufacture solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles. In late 2017 it launched a national emissions trading system, which creates a market for buying and selling carbon dioxide emissions allowances. This was a profoundly symbolic step, given that the United States still has not adopted a national market-based climate policy.

Most of these policies will produce additional benefits, such as improving China’s energy security, promoting economic reform and reducing ground-level air pollution. The only major program explicitly aimed at reducing carbon dioxide is the emissions trading system.

China will need to carry out multiple policies to start reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 – most importantly, reforming its electric power sector.
Gallagher et al., 2019., CC BY

Major challenges and policy gaps

Under the Paris Agreement, China committed to start reducing its carbon dioxide emissions and derive 20% of its energy from non-fossil fuels by around 2030. But when Chinese emissions rose in 2018, international observers feared that Beijing might fail to meet its targets. We analyzed China’s actions to assess that risk.


In our review, we found that the policies with the greatest influence over China’s projected emissions in 2030 were power sector reform, industrial transformation, industrial efficiency, emissions trading and light-duty vehicle efficiency.

Reforming the electric power sector is an essential step. Traditionally, electricity pricing schemes in China were determined by the National Development and Reform Commission, which leads the country’s macroeconomic planning. They favored existing power producers, particularly coal plants, not the cleanest or most efficient sources.

China committed to electric power reform, including emission reductions and greater use of renewables, in 2015. Converting to a process under which grid managers buy electricity from generators starting with the lowest-cost sources should facilitate installation and use of renewables, since renewable electricity has almost zero marginal costs. Meanwhile, renewable energy projects across China, especially solar, have become cheaper than grid electricity.


Even as China made big investments in wind and solar power in recent years, it also kept building coal plants. Power sector reform will help reduce the resulting overcapacity by stopping planned additions and encouraging market competition.

Reducing China’s reliance on coal energy is an enormous long-term shift.

But success is not guaranteed. The affected companies are giant state-owned enterprises. There is political resistance from owners of existing coal-fired power plants and from provinces that produce and use a lot of coal. The current U.S.-China trade war is slowing China’s economic growth and spurring rising concerns about employment, which could further complicate the reform process.

China’s emissions trading system has had a very modest impact so far because it set a low initial price on carbon dioxide emissions: US$7 per ton, increasing by 3% annually through 2030. But our analysis found that emissions trading, which allows low-carbon generators to make money by selling emissions allowances that they don’t need, could become influential over the longer term if it can sustain a much higher price. If China reduces its cap on total carbon dioxide emissions after 2025, which will increase the price of emissions allowances, this policy could become a major driver for emission reductions in the power sector.


Energy efficiency standards, particularly for coal-fired power plants, factories and motor vehicles, will also be very important over the coming decade. To continue driving progress, China will need to update these standards continuously.

Finally, there are some important gaps in China’s climate policies. Currently they only target carbon dioxide emissions, although China also generates significant quantities of other greenhouse gases, including methane and black carbon.

And China is contributing to emissions outside of its borders by exporting coal equipment and directly financing overseas coal plants through its Belt and Road Initiative. No nation, including China, currently reports emissions generated abroad in its national emissions inventory.

Coal projects currently financed by China.
Global Coal Finance Tracker, CC BY-NC

Following through

The biggest challenge China faces in achieving its Paris targets is making sure that business and local governments comply with policies and regulations that the government has already put in place. In the past, China has sometimes struggled with environmental enforcement at the local level when provincial and city governments prioritized economic development over the environment.


Assuming that China does carry out its existing and announced climate and energy policies, we think its carbon dioxide emissions could likely peak well before 2030. In our view, Chinese leaders should focus on completing power sector reform as soon as possible, implementing and strengthening emissions trading, making energy efficiency standards more stringent in the future and developing new carbon pricing policies for sectors such as iron, steel and transportation.

If they succeed, U.S. politicians will no longer have “But what about China?” as an excuse for opposing climate policies at home.

Robbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman from Energy Innovation and Qiang Lu from the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation in China co-authored the study described in this article.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. ]The Conversation


Kelly Sims Gallagher, Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy and Director, Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at The Fletcher School, Tufts University and Fang Zhang, China Research Coordinator and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Internet fears Trump’s ‘locked and loaded’ tweet about oil field bomb means he’s gearing up for war with Iran



the largest U.S. oil producer can be brought to its knees with a drone carrying a bomb. President Donald Trump responded to intelligence that the drone didn't originate in Yemen, but rather from Iraq or Iran, by saying he was "locked and loaded."

"Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Trump tweeted Sunday.


Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

3 out of 9 companies in one state have filed for bankruptcy since Trump promised to ‘bring back coal’



Donald Trump in coal hard hat thumbs up

President Donald Trump's promises to coal miners have fallen along with his other broken campaign promises. Another state is facing the harsh reality that Trump is not riding in on a white horse to save them.

According to Axios, three out of the nine coal companies in the Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming have filed for bankruptcy and another two companies are consolidating. Kentucky coal miners have been protesting Blackjewl, which filed for bankruptcy in July, withdrawing payroll dollars from miners' accounts. Little has been heard about the Wyoming workers as those companies crumble, however.

Continue Reading


‘Possible war in the Middle East’: Editor explains why Trump’s visa attack on Iran is ‘lame’ response to oil field bombing



As the United States is searching for ways to draw down on decades-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, serious conflicts might be afoot, one Daily Beast reporter told MSNBC Sunday.

World News editor Christopher Dickey told host Kendis Gibson he doesn't understand the point of barring Iranian diplomats from being able to come to the United Nations General Assembly meeting this fall. During a "Meet the Press" interview Sunday morning, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said that the U.S. should deny the visas. The statement prompted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to call her out for "warmongering," and said she was out of touch with Americans who don't want to get into another costly Middle East war.

Continue Reading
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.