Country has leadership opportunity in tackling climate change: expert
China is committed to fulfilling the Paris climate change accord as the country has stepped up efforts to transform to a low-carbon economy, a sharp contrast to the recent moves by U.S. President Donald Trump which erode the U.S.' ability to deliver on climate promises, experts said Thursday.
The comments came after Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday (U.S. time) to dismantle the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, replace coal-fired power plants with wind and solar farms and impose curbs on exploiting fossil fuels and natural gases, the Financial Times reported.
Trump also told miners at the signing ceremony that they were “going back to work” following the order, the report said.
The overturn of Obama's regulations, which were part of the National Determination Contribution plan the U.S. submitted under the Paris accord to explain how the country would address global warning, is a sign that “the [current] U.S. President is taking a back seat to the country's climate promises,” Bai Yunwen, director of the policy center at Greenovation Hub, a Chinese environmental NGO, told the Global Times.
Lin Boqiang, director of the Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, agreed. He predicts that although Trump may not pull the country out of the accord, the climate deal will not play a major role for the president in determining national policies.
Plenty of evidence has already indicated such a scenario, Bai said on Thursday.
For example, on March 20, the Trump administration approved the Keystone XL pipeline that carries petroleum from Canada to the U.S., which he claimed is critical to creating American jobs. The project was suspended under former president Obama due to environmental concerns.
Commenting on Trump's moves, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Wednesday that “no matter how the climate policies of other countries change, as a responsible developing country, China's determination, goals and policies to tackle climate change will not alter.”
“It is obvious that China is making tremendous efforts to realize the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by shutting down coal-fired power plants and boosting the use of clean energy,” Lin told the Global Times Thursday, noting that these moves are also in line with tackling the smog troubling the country.
Beijing authorities in early March closed Huaneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant, the final step for the municipality in shutting its four remaining coal-fired generators in a push for clean energy.
Regulators have also closed coal mines in Northeast China and North China's Shanxi Province that emit severe pollution, according to media reports.
The central government has also carried out a nationwide subsidy program to stimulate the purchases of new energy vehicles.
The achievement that China has made in reducing carbon dioxide emissions in recent years by hundreds of millions of tons a year probably equals the total amount of reduction across the world, Lin noted.
Meanwhile, the consumption of non-fossil fuels relative to that of total energy is estimated to surge to 25 percent, up around 15 percentage points from the current level, according to a report energy company BP sent to the Global Times Thursday.
Bai suggested that Trump's neglect of the Paris accord will harm the U.S.' reputation. Meanwhile, it will create an opportunity for China to fill the vacancy left by the U.S. to take a larger leadership role in tackling climate change and engage more in bilateral cooperation and global governance.
Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU's climate action commissioner, tweeted in Beijing on Wednesday that “a new climate era has begun, and the EU and China are ready to lead the way.”
However, Lin said that it might take some time for China to gain international influence. “Under the Paris accord, China, a developing country, is tasked with realizing the goal of managing its own carbon dioxide,” he said.
But the mission for developed nations, like the U.S., is more complicated, as they are obligated to help other countries with technology or funding, which China currently may not be able to do.