GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 590, 31 October 2021

China's White Paper on Climate Change
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 27 October, China's State Council Information Office published a white paper highlighting the country's new policies, the national strategy, and the shift in the state's response to the global climate crisis. The paper is titled "Responding to Climate Change: China's Policies and Actions." The 35-page report responds to the impending climate crisis in four parts. It seeks to prepare the Chinese people for drastic changes that the government will undertake. 

China introduced five principles in its new plan. The paper explained the efforts undertaken by the government to improve the planning and coordination amongst smaller government bodies to execute its new policies. China has also included carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals in its five-year plans and the national economic and social development plans. The state will also actively control its greenhouse emissions, promote low-carbon development in infrastructure and transportation and enhance its carbon sink capacity. Lastly, the report showcased China's contributions towards preventing the fast degradation of the global ecology and emphasized Chinese President Xi Jinping's efforts to achieve global consensus to act unitedly on the issue of climate change.

What is the background?
First, the energy crisis. In recent weeks, China also faced an energy crisis caused due to the scarcity of coal in the country. Although China is now working on resolving the supply issue, the incident has been an eyeopener for the Chinese economists and politicians who faced a slowdown in the country's economic growth in the third quarter. In order to reduce its emissions, China will have to drastically suspend its dependence on coal-powered energy plants, which may cause yet another slowdown or an energy crisis in the country. The release of the White Paper comes at a time when the country prepares to deal with these inadequacies and creates targets for the coming decades. 

Second, the global push for policy reforms. In the past few years, numerous countries have heightened their cooperation on climate change. Major changes in emission reduction goals were announced after US President Joe Biden returned to the Paris climate accord. In September 2020, China also announced its plans for carbon neutrality by 2060 and reducing emissions by huge margins. The White Paper sheds light on the targets set by the government on achieving carbon neutrality and emissions and the reforms that will be adopted in China to achieve these targets. On 18 December 2020, the UK also published its White Paper title "Powering our net-zero future" to become the first country with a net-zero target. In October 2020, the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also projected that the country would be a net-zero economy. In 2017, the Australian government also acknowledged the dangers of climate change and released its document on dealing with the growing pressures on climate policy reforms. More countries are currently recreating their policies in order to fit the current needs and to resolve the critical climate risks. 
What does this mean?
The White Paper attempts to explain that climate change cannot be dealt with unilaterally. Although China is eager to take the lead and attempts to showcase its leadership by setting an example through its policy reforms, the paper reiterated that global governance is essential to deal with the challenges of climate change. It repeatedly emphasizes multilateralism and calls for common but differentiated responsibility. 

However, according to a China expert, it fails to provide details about the emissions. Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki said: "The document gives no answers on the major open questions about the country's emissions. At what level will emissions peak and how fast should they fall after the peak?"

The paper released by China shows that the country is prepared to take up major challenges to deal with the climate crisis, but it was adamant about following its own patterns and walking a path created by the Chinese people.