Environmental nongovernmental organization Greenpeace called on China and the EU to step up their efforts to help cut global carbon emissions and take the lead on climate change matters this week, expressing concern over possible U.S. policy shifts following the election of Donald Trump as the nation’s next president.
With the closure of coal plants and ongoing shift toward increasingly popular renewable energy sources, the U.S.’s greenhouse emissions will likely continue to drop “despite expected retrograde policies under the new administration,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global coal campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. “[B]ut leadership from China and the EU is more needed than ever,” she said.
Shortly after last week’s U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team. Ebell is a prominent climate change denier and has called global warming “phony.”
“We believed that the so-called global warming consensus was not based on science, but was a political consensus, which included a number of scientists,” he said in a PBS documentary on climate change denial. Ebell is expected to formally head the EPA once Trump is inaugurated.
In September, China’s President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama ratified the Paris climate change agreement at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province. The summit was described as a historic moment, as the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases vowed to cut global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main contributor to climate change.
While experts worried about the potential consequences of Trump’s presidency for U.S. climate change policies, China is making progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. “China has halted its growth in emissions in the last three years thanks to record-breaking investment in clean energy, measures against air pollution, as well as slower economic growth and a shift from low-end manufacturing towards services,” said Myllyvirta. “If China continues on this path, we expect that it could drive emissions down even further.”
Global carbon dioxide emissions have remained almost flat for the third year in a row, according to a new report from the Global Carbon Project (GCP). Decreased use of coal in China is considered the main reason for the three-year trend.
According to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the GCP, global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels did not increase in 2015 and are projected to rise by only 0.2 percent in 2016, marking three years of almost no growth. China – the largest emitter of CO2 – saw emissions decrease by 0.7 percent in 2015, and a further reduction of 0.5 percent is projected for 2016.
In the Paris Agreement, China committed to cutting carbon emissions by 60 to 65 percent per unit of GDP by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
Wang Shekun, an environmental law professor at Peking University, told Sixth Tone that if economic growth is taken into account, a call for China to step up its environmental efforts may not be well-received by the Chinese government. “After all, we have to admit that there is a short-term conflict between taking measures in regard to climate change and continued economic development,” he said, pointing out that China has already done a lot to scale down emissions.
“Whether or not to cut carbon emissions, and how much to cut them, mainly depends on the country’s interests,” Wang said, adding that he thinks it’s unlikely that China will change its plans due to international opinion.
Over the past years, however, it has become clear that the U.S. – not China – “might be the player that needs to be pushed in the international process,” Deborah Seligsohn, an environmental governance researcher at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in an article published on China Dialogue last week.
“That will certainly be the case now,” Seligsohn said, referring to Trump’s election. “Not only is climate change no Chinese hoax, but Chinese seriousness may be our best hope.”
With contributions from Denise Hruby.
(Header image: A driver gets off a loading vehicle at local businessman Sun Meng’s small coal depot near a coal mine of the state-owned Longmay Group on the outskirts of Jixi, Heilongjiang province, Oct. 23, 2015. Jason Lee/Reuters)