Climate action has become one of the nation’s top priorities, yet its crucial climate alliance with the US has suffered a major setback.
As the world’s largest CO2 emitter, China’s maneuvers at the climate negotiation table in the upcoming COP27 in Egypt are expected to be closely monitored.
Climate change was mentioned as one of Beijing’s priorities at a China’s party congress in mid-October this year, with reports of reiterated green pledges flooding the state media.
China vowed to peak carbon emissions, slash its per capita carbon emissions by 65 percent compared to 2005 levels, use renewable energy in one-fourth of its energy mix and carry out afforestation of 6 billion square metres by 2030. By 2060, Beijing aims to lead a carbon neutral country.
The figures released in a government report in October show that Beijing is seemingly on track to achieve its goals. Its share of coal consumption dropped to 56 percent, while non-fossil energy sources account for 16.6 percent of its primary electricity in 2021. China’s per capita carbon emission fell 3.8 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, and 3.6 million hectares of land have been afforested.
But although world leaders have been asked to make new green commitments before COP27, China has yet to submit a new plan.
Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis tracking government climate action, called China’s goals “concerning,” as it estimated the country’s power consumption would rise up to 6 percent next year, and that its GHG emissions in 2030 would see a 26 percent surge from 2010 levels.
What did China pledge at COP26?
China signed the Glasgow Leader’s Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which aims to reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. It has also signed the Breakthrough Agenda that seeks to slash the cost of renewable energy by 2030.
Beijing, however, did not join its 105 counterparts in a methane emission reduction pledge, despite being the world’s biggest methane emitter.
In 2021 alone, China emitted 28 million tonnes of methane, mostly over its coal, oil and gas operations, according to a report from the International Energy Agency. It also did not follow other countries’ suit in vowing to “accelerate a transition away from unabated coal power generation.”
A highlight of China at COP26 was its joint declaration with the US on adaptation projects and financial support for developing countries. China, however, severed its participation in August this year following a high-profile visit from House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing maintains belongs to China.
Is there hope for US-China collaboration?
Dr Sander Chan, a global environmental governance scholar based in the Netherlands, told FairPlanet that the two largest carbon emitters are likely to resume their climate cooperation.
“China-US climate collaboration at the governmental level may wax or wane, however, over the last decade we have seen growing climate collaboration at the subnational and transnational levels between Chinese and US local, regional governments, academia and other actors,” Dr Chan said.
The climate expert said that China has been playing a growing role in international climate initiatives, including the C40 network for city mayors to fight the climate crisis and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives alongside the US and European cities.
Nengye Liu, a professor at Singapore Management University specialising in both international and Chinese environmental law, echoed Dr Chan’s sentiment. He said the two nations’ cooperation would likely “bounce back” over a common goal.
“I think nobody would deny that [the US and China] have both experienced the disastrous effect of climate change,” Dr Liu told FairPlanet, adding that “If they don’t deal with that together, nobody could exist.”
Loss and damage, climate finance
One of the main themes of the COP27 is expected to be loss and damage from climate change impacts, with developing nations pressuring wealthier nations to deliver on their pledge to provide them with HK $100 billion for adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Being both a developing nation and the world’s largest GHG emitter, China opted to side with other developing nations and urged COP27 to respond to their climate finance demands.
Chinese officials urged western countries to fulfill their commitments, “instead of just submitting a report during COP27 that makes excuses for the delay,” according to a state media report.
While China and other developing nations requested a $1.3 trillion climate fund from developed countries at COP26, China also offered $5.1 billion to help developing countries tackle climate change through its South-South cooperation – an effort to extend climate support to countries in the Global South.
Beijing said it initiated five project documents with Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Kiribati, as well as trainings of 100 professionals in these island nations to help adaptation efforts.
Dr Chan expected these nations to side with China at COP27 amid its geopolitical tensions with the US.
“China has championed South-South cooperation since long, among other things, funding the UN Office for South-South Cooperation,” he explained.
“Frankly, I am not surprised seeing SIDS [small island developing nations] engaging with China. Unlike the US, China has been consistently committed to the Paris Agreement.” He added, “For SIDS this is a matter of survival, for China an opportunity to bolster its engagement with Pacific island states.”
This story was originally published on Fair Planet with the support of Climate Tracker’s COP27 Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship.