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US And China — Yes, THAT China — Agree To Expand Renewable Energy, Ditch Fossil Fuels
For that uncle who says China's doing 'nothing.' Now he'll say China's lying. Never mind that uncle, he's a lost cause.
Just a day before today’s face-to-face meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco, the State Department announced that the US and China have agreed to cooperate more closely on climate change. It’s kind of a big deal, since we’re the planet’s two top sources of greenhouse emissions. The agreement is the result of months of negotiations between US Climate Envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua.
NBC News reports the two countries will revive a
bilateral working group that will address issues including energy transition, methane and deforestation, marking the full restoration of climate relations that China cut off more than a year ago amid tensions over the Beijing-claimed island of Taiwan.
The two countries also expressed support for a declaration by world leaders at this year’s Group of 20 summit to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, and vowed to work together on a global, legally binding agreement to reduce plastic pollution.
China has in the last decade deployed more renewable energy, and done it faster, than any other country in the world, and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates that China will build more new solar capacity this year alone than the total amount of solar installed in the USA.
The downside, of course, is that China is also rapidly expanding its coal-burning power stations, even though coal is the worst source of planet-warming carbon dioxide. That’s largely because China’s gamble on building enormous hydroelectric dams has been undercut in recent years by sustained drought that left reservoirs behind the dams too low to produce power. The Chinese Communist Party is no fan of mass protests over blackouts, after all.
There’s every reason to believe, though, that China will be moving away from coal as its renewable capacity expands, although right now all those renewables aren’t yet able to contribute as much as they could, since China’s electric grid needs substantial upgrades to get clean power where it’s needed — a problem the US faces as well.
As the New York Times reported recently, China’s energy transition is actually farther along than almost anyone would have predicted, given its historic reliance on coal.
Mr. Xi announced in December 2020 that China planned to triple its wind and solar capacity by 2030. China is on track to reach that target by the end of next year, said Frank Haugwitz, a solar industry consultant who specializes in China’s data.
The agreement announced yesterday unfortunately doesn’t include any firm commitment by China to phase out coal or even a timeline for ending the construction of new coal plants. But there’s a bit of progress there, too, the Times reports:
[Both] countries agreed to “pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030.” That growth should reach levels high enough “so as to accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation,” the agreement says. Both countries anticipate “meaningful absolute power sector emission reduction” in this decade, it says. That appears to be the first time China has agreed to cut emissions in any part of its economy.
In another notable development, the US-China agreement announced yesterday includes, for the first time, a Chinese commitment to set goals for reducing all greenhouse gases, while up to now it has only set targets for phasing out CO2 emissions.
The Times also points out that so far, China hasn’t joined the “Global Methane Pledge” that 150 nations have signed, which commits member nations to reduce emissions of the highly potent greenhouse gas by 30 percent by 2030. So there’s a lot more persuading yet to go.
This is all what your diplomatic cliché handbook would call “a welcome development” in advance of the UN’s big COP28 climate meeting in Dubai next month, in what’s likely to be the hottest year in human history. If the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases can make progress, then it’s just possible the world is going to tackle climate change in time to keep much of the planet habitable for beloved mammals like manatees, koalas, kittycats and those owned by them, and Taylor Swift.
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