China's global participation in climate summits and treaties has fostered greater cooperation with other countries, raising both international and national climate ambitions. On September 3, 2016, China became a signatory to the Paris Agreement, a UN-led effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions to keep a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. Additionally, China continues to work with the European Union and other countries like the United States to produce bilateral agreements on climate change. Recent multilateral agreements include a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060 following the 22nd EU-China summit in September 2020.
On a national level, China has issued several climate targets for 2030, which are included in the country’s Fourteenth Five-Year Plan (FYP-14). It has pledged to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and aims to cut its carbon intensity by 18 percent within the next five years. Moreover, it plans to reduce its energy intensity by 13.5 percent in order to reach a non-fossil share of 20 percent in 2030. Other goals include reducing wasteful consumption and cutting air pollution, as well as increasing energy security.
To achieve its climate targets, China has committed to the following:
- Lowering its carbon footprint: China plans to strengthen regulations in steel and aluminum industries, since the two metals are energy intensive. Several oil companies are planning projects that rely less on fossil fuels. For example, the country’s oil giant Sinopec recently announced plans for its first green hydrogen project in the Inner Mongolia region in 2022. The project will use zero-carbon fuel generated by solar power and wind farms. Meanwhile, the government has conducted major renovations in resource-depleted towns like Yumin, China’s first oil town. The city now comprises numerous wind turbines and solar panels, becoming a hub of renewable energy. The project in Yumen is part of six mega wind projects in the country. According to Premier Li Kequiand, the central government will issue a new “action plan” this year to meet its 2030 goals.
- Transitioning to renewable energy: the central government has issued stimulus packages to industries and its labor force to promote renewable energy systems, electric vehicle use, and a digital economy. The stimulus package falls under the name “neo-infrastructure construction,” which aims to promote digitization and electrification through artificial intelligence, particularly in its public transportation system. For instance, tech company Baidu has partnered with state-owned automaker BAIC Group to build 1,000 driverless cars over the next three years. The new partnership expects to generate autonomous vehicles on a mass scale.
- Making greener investments: the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has increased its allocation of green bonds to its foreign exchange reserves investments and placed greater controls in high-pollution assets. Under its green bond rules, the PBOC cannot use the funds for coal-related projects. It has also started implementing regional pilot projects to push clean investment, while encouraging rural banks to follow suit. The central bank will continue to provide financial incentives for green investments, which help lower the country’s carbon emissions, as well as enforce a national carbon accounting system to monitor China’s progress and help reach its goal of carbon neutrality.
According to the Climate Action Tracker, China will need to bolster its climate efforts, specifically addressing the country’s heavy reliance on coal. To align with the Paris Agreement, China would need to phase out coal before 2040 under 1.5 degrees Celsius. At the 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate organized by the Biden administration, President Xi Jinping declared that China will limit its coal consumption over the FYP-14 period, cutting coal use to below 56 percent of energy consumption in 2021, with plans to reduce it even more during the 15th Five-Year Plan period (2026-2030). That would mean the country would reach peak coal consumption in 2025.
More climate discussions among UN members will take place in November at COP26, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow. Leaders expect China to make stronger commitments to tackle the climate crisis. Britain’s COP26 President Alok Sharma declared to a parliament committee: “We need the Chinese system to deliver on President Xi’s commitments with more urgency.”