China ‘Moving to Lead on Climate Change,’ Says Report

By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network

Both China and the U.S., the world’s two principal emitters of greenhouse gases, have been making significant recent progress on tackling climate change, a report by an influential Australian advisory group says.

Its report, The Critical Decade: Global Action Building on Climate Change, has particular praise for China, saying its efforts “demonstrate accelerating global leadership.”

The other “energy giant,” the U.S., is also commended for showing “a new commitment to lead.” The report says the U.S. “appears to be gaining momentum with President Barack Obama outlining his strong intent to address climate change…”

That was then ... despite being one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, China is earning high praise for its efforts to tackle climate change.
Credit: High Contrast

The report is the work of the Australian Climate Commission, an independent body set up in 2011 to provide authoritative and trustworthy information on climate change science and solutions.

Its authors are Professor Tim Flannery, chair of the Commission, Gerry Hueston, former CEO of BP Australasia, and Roger Beale, an economist and former Secretary of the Australian Department of Environment.

The report says China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies which together produce about 37 percent of world emissions, are both on track to meet their international commitments on climate change, something they said in this month’s “historic agreement” they would tackle together. “Today the energy giants are undoubtedly on the move, which will fuel global momentum.”

Halving electricity demand

China earns praise for several reasons. It is reducing its emissions growth, and in 2012 cut the carbon intensity of its economy more than expected. After years of strong growth in coal use, the rate of growth has declined substantially. It is also “the world’s renewable energy powerhouse.”

Professor Flannery says: “China has halved its growth in electricity demand… [and] is quickly moving to the top of the leader board on climate change.”

Emissions have also been declining in the U.S., which is on track to meet its goal of cutting them by 17 percent on 2005 levels by 2020. The authors note that the economic downturn and a shift away from coal to gas have helped here.

Global progress on renewable energy graphic.
Credit: Climate Commission

The report says every major economy is tackling climate change, introducing policies to drive down emissions and encouraging renewable energy.

But in a section headed “This is the critical decade for action,” it says the significant progress made so far is not enough. “Globally emissions are continuing to rise strongly, posing serious risks for our society. This decade must set the foundations to reduce emissions rapidly to nearly zero by 2050.”

The scale and the pace of the changes needed to reduce emissions as drastically as that – something which many scientists insist is vital – is a huge challenge, and many countries appear on present trends very unlikely to meet it.

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 26, headlined “Japan turns back to coal-fired power plants,” included this observation on the country’s post-Fukushima prospects: “…with the government considering the closure of much of the installed nuclear capacity over the medium term, the spotlight is back on coal as the cheapest energy source, notwithstanding plans to cut carbon emissions.

“A commitment to slice 2020 carbon emissions by 25 percent from their 1990 level will be revised by October, according to Japanese newspaper reports.”

Action needed now

The Australian report’s praise for China and the U.S. commends their recent performance – or at least their stated intentions – in comparison with their past records. But they will need to do far more than show the relative improvement the Commission recognizes.

If the Earth is still to have any chance of staying below the 2°C global average temperature rise,  which most governments say is essential to prevent dangerous climate change, the energy giants (and the rest of the world) will have to make vastly greater absolute progress.

Alex Kirby, a former BBC environment correspondent, is a founding journalist of Climate News Network. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.