Andrew Revkin on the enormous CO2 emission challenges facing China
referenced is an interview with Glen Peters
That sounds daunting. Could you explain the implications? Many Chinese scientists and officials say that China’s carbon emissions are likely to keep growing until at least around 2025, and possibly many years after that. But you’re saying that keeping to a two-degree goal will demand much faster, deeper cuts from China, not to speak of the rest of the world. Is that right?
There is a broad misconception of what it means to keep below two degrees. Most analyses use models that have very optimistic assumptions about the implementation of carbon pricing globally and the availability of key technologies like carbon capture and storage. Analyses also focus on what happens at the global level, hiding country-specific details. This gives the impression that mitigation is easy once there is sufficient political and societal support.
The engineering reality on the ground is likely to be quite different. While China is moving forward with stronger and stronger climate policies, it is unclear if China’s current level of ambition is consistent with keeping global warming below two degrees. The arithmetic of the small remaining emission quota means that the more China emits, the less others can emit. This brings issues of equity and fairness directly into the debate. Despite positive progress in Chinese climate policy, the reality is that, to be consistent with two degrees, a peak and decline in Chinese emissions will have to occur sooner and faster.
You’ve said that, given the failure of advanced countries to do much more in cutting emissions, China has a chance to lead the way in the climate negotiations. But how could it make the kind of emissions reductions you have in mind without hurting its economy? As you know, there’s a great deal of reluctance in China to making changes that could put economic growth at risk.
Each country has its own historical context, which often psychologically constrains options moving forward. Norway is among the richest nations in the world but does not see a path away from its dependence on oil and gas extraction. In contrast, its immediate neighbors Denmark, Sweden and Finland have been almost as successful, but without oil and gas.
There are many ways that a country can find its riches. The secret for China is to make itself a part of the solution. It is clear that to keep below two degrees requires massive new investments in renewable technologies, batteries, electric cars, and carbon capture and storage. A bold move forward will ensure these technologies are “Made in China,” with the riches to closely follow.