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Shenzen leads China’s pilot city program in new green development
Chinese lawmakers have approved the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, the high-level document that will guide policymaking through 2020, including the country’s approach to climate and energy policy. As the world’s second-largest economy and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China necessarily plays a role in shaping global climate policy — and if it can deliver on the goals outlined in the plan, that role will undoubtedly expand.
The plan is the first to set a national cap on energy consumption — 5 billion tons of standard coal equivalent for 2020 — as well as offering new visions for energy efficiency and air pollution. A World Resources Institute analysis concluded that this FYP sets China on a path to a 48 percent reduction in carbon intensity levels by 2020, compared to 2005 levels…For reference, China’s pledge to the Paris Agreement has the country slashing carbon intensity by 60-65 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.
All told, it’s the “greenest Five-Year Plan that China has ever produced,” said Barbara Finamore, director of NRDC’s Asia program…
There’s a lot more to the FYP than energy policy, but many of the other pieces are complementary when it comes to the climate. New standards on air quality indicators like PM 2.5, for example, will no doubt rein in the country’s rampant coal burning.
But it’s not all about coal, either. While China saw a cut in coal use of around 3 percent in 2015, it increased its oil consumption by 5.6 percent in the same year. “If China is going to peak its CO2 emissions, it cannot just rely on cutting coal,” said Finamore. “Transportation emissions and oil consumption are going to be exceedingly important.” And they are: The FYP addresses vehicle emissions and public transportation in cities, in addition to allocating new money to high-speed rail initiatives.
I haven’t read through the plan myself – yet – but, I’ve blogged before about changes already initiated. Notably, providing natural gas for household cooking and heating. Hopefully, the target of reaching every household in every Tier 1 city will be achieved during this 5-year plan. Though Talking Heads on Western TV relish the topic of smog in China, they always seem to miss the point that half that smog comes from household coal fires – identical to the problem faced in the UK after World War 2.
I lived through a similar conversion process in the New England industrial city where I grew up and the change is dramatic, beneficial and qualitative in how life is affected.
It’s easy to raise questions about China’s ability to follow through on these kinds of ambitious plans in the face of slowing economic growth. The FYP outlines a target GDP growth rate of 6.5 percent through 2020 — speedy by global standards, but a far cry from the 10 percent growth rate of yesteryear.
But that’s not the right way to think about it, said Paul Joffe, senior foreign policy counsel at WRI. “China envisions a ‘new normal’ level of growth,” explained Joffe to press. “At that level, they view the economic and environmental targets as entirely compatible.” In other words, anyone wildly gesticulating at China’s flagging growth rate needs to take a chill pill. Ten percent is simply not sustainable.
It also doesn’t match China economic planners’ vision of a model wherein up to 70% of the GDP is based on consumption, goods and services.
Joffe’s description of coinciding economic and environmental goals bucks the conventional economic logic that says “you need to consume more to grow more,” said Kate Gordon, a vice chair at the Paulson Institute. That logic is faltering. Earlier this week, the International Energy Agency released data suggesting energy-related emissions and global GDP growth are decoupling. Indeed, Gordon argues that China’s energy-efficiency savings have in part allowed for that kind of decoupling…
The plan’s ambition gives post-Paris climate-action further momentum, and can only serve to strengthen the recent U.S.-China climate pact. As with all ambitious plans, though, implementation will be key — and the country is outlining some stark transitions. Upwards of 1.8 million workers in the coal and steel industries are expected to lose their jobs due to changes outlined in the FYP, and those workers will need to be retrained and reemployed. Truly delivering on those goals will require an unprecedented degree of foresight and coordination.
Though I haven’t read the details – as I mentioned above – I watched many of the discussions on TV. Fact is, the target for new urban jobs is much higher than just those needed to be retrained and reemployed. That is 10 million new jobs every year.
I can’t skip over the sour grapes still to be consumed by anyone mentioning how this ties in with the US-China climate pact. That will certainly enjoy respect and a part of this 5-year plan. In China. As long as the US Congress is controlled by the Party of Do Nothing – likely the case until sometime after the 2020 census, redistricting, an opportunity to sort Republican gerrymandering – ain’t nothing like new positive environmental legislation coming out of Washington DC.