Why China's shifting economy could be a boon for climate action

Shanghai and China sustainable development
ShutterstockIakov Kalinin
China is at an inflection point for sustainable development.

There are many forces at play on both sides of the challenge to rein in carbon emissions before it’s too late. Some of the most important, like the plummeting price of oil, or China’s need to protect citizens by reducing air pollution, are not even directed at the problem. Still, they both have enormous impact.

Another such trend is the recent decision by Chinese leaders to initiate a supply side reform in their economy. What this means is that at the beginning of the 13th Five Year Plan, the Chinese want to shift away from a production-based economy to one that is more consumer and service-based.

The primary reason for this is the economic slowdown that China is experiencing, which has led to substantial overcapacity in their manufacturing sector.  The Chinese economic growth rate dropped to 6.9 percent in 2015, the lowest since the downturn of 2008.

But at the same time, in the post-COP21 world, the desire to cut emissions plays a key role. A full 25 percent of China’s emissions comes from the production of goods for the export market.

Furthermore, Premier Li Keqiang, is looking to heavy industries like steel and coal to take the lead. Specifically, he said, they should, cut "overcapacity, digest unreasonable inventories, reduce costs and improve efficiency."

At the same time, they have made a strong commitment to renewables, with a target of 200 GW of solar and 250 GW of wind by 2020. To put that in perspective, that’s a number that represents roughly 40 percent of the entire U.S. power generation capacity, of which roughly 18 percent comes from renewables today.

President Xi Jinping called innovation, coordination, green development, opening up and sharing, the five cornerstones of secure resilient and sustainable growth.

The president emphasized the need to develop strategic emerging industries and the modern service sector, and increase the supply of public goods and services. Among these emerging industries will be the production of solar and wind technology.

The past five years saw a 65 percent increase in China’s GDP, while per capita disposable income among urban dwellers grew by about the same amount.

The premier asked that the plan be "a scientific, feasible and forward-looking blueprint to guide the country's overall development" over the next five years.

The outline of the plan will be reviewed by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council and then submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC) for deliberation and approval in March.

These measures illustrate clearly the commitment on the part of the Chinese to take meaningful action on reducing their carbon footprint which has, since 2007, been the largest in the world. At this point, no one can use the excuse of waiting for China to act before taking action themselves

Many forces are at play on both sides of the challenge to rein in carbon emissions before it’s too late. Some of the most important, such as the plummeting price of oil, or China’s need to protect citizens by reducing air pollution, are not even directed at the problem. Still, they both have enormous impact.

Another such trend is the recent decision by Chinese leaders to initiate a supply side reform in their economy. What this means is that at the beginning of the 13th Five Year Plan, the Chinese want to shift away from a production-based economy to one that is more consumer and service-based.

The primary reason for this is the economic slowdown that China is experiencing which has led to substantial overcapacity in their manufacturing sector. The Chinese economic growth rate dropped to 6.9 percent in 2015, the lowest since the downturn of 2008. But at the same time, in the post COP21 world, the desire to cut emissions plays a key role. A full 25 percent of China’s emissions comes from the production of goods for the export market.

Furthermore, Premier Li Keqiang is looking to heavy industries such as steel and coal to take the lead. Specifically, he said, they should, cut "overcapacity, digest unreasonable inventories, reduce costs and improve efficiency."

At the same time, they have made a strong commitment to renewables, with a target of 200 GW of solar and 250 GW of wind by 2020. To put that in perspective, that’s a number that represents roughly 40 percent of the entire U.S. power generation capacity, of which roughly 18 percent comes from renewables today.

President Xi Jinping called innovation, coordination, green development, opening up and sharing, the five cornerstones of secure resilient and sustainable growth. The president emphasized the need to develop strategic emerging industries and the modern service sector, and increase the supply of public goods and services. Among these emerging industries will be the production of solar and wind technology.

The past five years saw a 65 percent increase in China’s GDP, while per capita disposable income among urban dwellers grew by about the same amount.

The premier asked that the plan be “a scientific, feasible and forward-looking blueprint to guide the country's overall development” over the next five years. The outline of the plan will be reviewed by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council and then submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC) for deliberation and approval in March.

These measures illustrate clearly the commitment on the part of the Chinese to take meaningful action on reducing their carbon footprint which has, since 2007, been the largest in the world. At this point, no one can use the excuse of waiting for China to act before taking action themselves.

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