March 2015 — At the annual National People’s Congress (NPC) last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang renewed pledges to tackle the country’s chronic pollution. Against a backdrop of growing public concern about toxic air, water and soil, he told the Congress that his government would strictly enforce environmental laws and punish polluters.
Li’s reaction came after the recent release of the online documentary ‘Under The Dome’, criticising China’s air pollution strategy. The video became an immediate hit with 155m views by the next day according to state media.
China is expected to develop a new raft of regulations addressing the country’s environmental crisis. Newly appointed environmental protection minister Chen Jining announced last week that the government will unveil a detailed environmental protection five-year plan and will spare no effort to implement it.
China’s announcements are closely watched by analysts all over the world, looking for references following Li’s 2014 declaration on “the war on pollution”, now one year on and showing so far few signs of being won. The situation in cities is even worse than ever. With the area surrounding the capital accounting for the worst air pollution in China, in late January Beijing’s mayor Wang Anshun called the city unlivable.
It is not only China but the entire world that is taking climate change much more seriously. On 11 November 2014, China and the United States, the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, signed an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as a way to spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse gases.
As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020 prior to the agreement. China, meanwhile, pledged to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030. To reach that goal, clean energy sources like solar power and wind turbines should account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China’s share in global energy demand has more than quadrupled since 1974 to more than 20% today. Consequently, it is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2. At the same time China has become the world leader in renewable energy, with its share in global clean electricity generation set to increase to over 27% by 2020, up from 21% in 2013.
For IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, China’s progress in industrial innovation is remarkable. “We are taking a close look at innovation systems in China, the work being done is impressive – developing a long-term strategy to increase innovation and evolve from command-and-control approaches to more market-based approaches”, she said.
Europe has a track record of surpassing its emissions targets. The European Environment Agency estimated last October that the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 were already 19% below 1990 levels, all but reaching the target it has set to cut emissions by 20% by 2020, seven years early.
Analysts say that the European Commission’s proposed contribution to a potential climate deal at Paris talks later this year – including a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – lacks ambition when set against the EU’s plans for low-carbon energy.