Climate action to build a shared future

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Climate action to build a shared future

Speaking at the general debate of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, President Xi Jinping called for a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation and building a community with a shared future for mankind. The concept of “building a community with a shared future for mankind” was included in the report Xi delivered to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017.

Since then, it has become one of the core concepts guiding the foreign policy of China.

In the report to the 19th CPC National Congress, Xi elaborated on his views on the shared future for humankind, saying it would lead to an “open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity”.

Countries across the world are facing major problems which are too complex for any single country, no matter how powerful, to solve them alone. So all countries, big and small, should first agree to a common solution and then endeavour to achieve it and collectively contribute to realizing common prosperity.

Climate change is only one such global problem which is seriously obstructing efforts to build a community with a shared future for mankind. Therefore, every country must deliver agreed results — such as peaking their carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality — within a stipulated time, in order to address the common problem of climate change.

At the 15th UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, China was one of some 120 countries that agreed to make efforts to keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. Since then, China has set a series of targets to be achieved within a specific period to transform the country into a green, low-carbon and circular economy. Specifically, China will work to meet the following targets.

First, China will reduce its energy consumption by 13.5 percent and carbon emissions by 18 percent per unit of GDP, both from the 2020 levels, while increasing non-fossil energy consumption to 20 percent and raise the forest cover to 24.1 percent by 2025.

Second, China will reduce carbon emissions per unit of GDP by more than 65 percent from the 2005 level and boost non-fossil energy consumption up to 25 percent, with 1,200 GW of solar and wind power generation, while increasing the forest cover to 25 percent by 2030. In other words, China will peak its carbon emissions before 2030.

And third, China would have transformed into a green and circular economy, with its energy efficiency matching that of the most advanced countries and non-fossil energy consumption exceeding 80 percent. This is to say China will realize carbon neutrality before 2060.

These are very ambitious targets by any standard.

China plans to limit the increase in coal consumption during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period, while during the 15th Five-Year Plan (2026-30) period, it will phase down coal consumption and peak its petroleum consumption. To achieve the climate targets, China has been vigorously developing renewable energy.

These ambitious goals are being underpinned by significantly strengthening basic research and promoting new cutting-edge technologies. Research and development will be intensified in low-carbon, zero-carbon and carbon-negative technologies, while major projects will be implemented to protect and restore all types of ecosystems, improve forest quality, and protect and restore wetlands and marine ecosystems.

Different State institutions have been developing macro plans to enable China to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. China has already made remarkable progress in many areas, pushing the country toward carbon neutrality, which will also help other countries to reach their respective goals in time if they use the cost-effective technologies developed by China.

But the International Energy Agency says that if the world is to reach net-zero by 2050, nearly 90 percent of energy will have to be generated using renewable resources, which can be made possible to a significant extent due to China’s R&D efforts.

Take solar energy as an example to realize the progress China has made in fighting climate change. Some 15 years ago, Japan dominated this sector. But over the past decade, by investing heavily in R&D for solar and wind energy, China has become the global leader in this area. Also, primarily due to China’s R&D efforts, global prices for generating per unit of solar and wind power have declined drastically — for instance, the cost of generating electricity through solar panels declined by an incredible 80 percent.

In 2021, China invested $381 billion in the clean energy sector — an astounding $146 billion more than the total investment in North America. And current estimates suggest that, through accelerated research, China will be able to reduce solar power generation cost to less than $0.03 per KWh by 2060.

In 2022, China had a solar power generating capacity of 393 GW, nearly one-third of the world’s total, and it aims to increase it to 1,200 GW by 2030. Given its record, China could reach this target much ahead of schedule.

Yet to reach carbon neutrality before 2060, China has to increase its R&D budget by trillions of dollars. The World Economic Forum estimates that China will have to spend $22 trillion on R&D during the 2020-60 period, but our estimate suggests the amount could exceed $30 trillion.

The dynamics of the future of humankind will be determined by not any one single country but by the aggregation of all the countries’ performances. In the final analysis, humankind has a common future. The world will prosper or perish together, though it is preferable to have a prosperous world with lasting social and economic well-being.

Asit K. Biswas is a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom. Cecilia Tortajada is a professor at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Glasgow, UK.

This article was published by CHINA DAILY, March 20, 2023 .