China, the world’s biggest polluter, is proposing to set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions as early as 2016 in a move that is being hailed as a potentially transformative step in the fight against climate change.
According to news reports from China, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has proposed setting absolute caps that would divorce the growth on emissions from growth in the economy, and will also set a peak in its overall emissions in 2025, five years earlier than planned.
China has already pledged to cut its emissions intensity – the amount of Co2 it emits per economic unit – by up to 45 per cent by 2020. The significance of an absolute cap is that it promises to reign in emissions even if the economy grows faster than expected.
Furthermore, Point Carbon reports, at a recent NDRC meeting, its vice director Xie Zhenhua said China should set long-term emission targets for 2030 and 2050 in a bid to decarbonise its economy. China, like Australia is heavily dependent on carbon-intensive coal to generate electricity – just over 82 per cent. But it has also proposed a cap on coal consumption of 4 billion tonnes.
Lord Nicholas Stern, the chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, described it as “exciting news”, and said it should encourage all countries, the US in particular, to take stronger action.
“And it improves the prospects for a strong international treaty being agreed at the United Nations climate change summit in 2015,” he told The Independent in the UK.
Of course, the move has major implications for Australia, both in its policy development under a Coalition government, and for the hopes of mining magnates such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer to dig up large tracts of central Queensland in the hoping of exporting that coal to China.
As we reported on Tuesday, and previously, the Coalition is basing its plan to repeal the carbon price on the principal that China and other big polluters are doing little to address emissions.
Its climate change spokesman Greg Hunt is still peddling nonsense that China plans to lift coal consumption to 7 billion tonnes, and suggests that Tony Abbott, armed with a fig leaf of a policy that includes its $300 million emissions reduction fund and a 15,000 strong, litter collecting “Green Army”, can somehow encourage China and the US to intensify their efforts.
Such a scenario is laughable given that US moves to impose severe restrictions on coal emissions and China itself moves to a carbon trading mechanism, and imposes its own restrictions on big emitters.
Indeed, many argue that Australia should already be lifting its emissions reduction target. Ross Garnaut said last week it should be 17 per cent, instead of the current agreed target of 5 per cent. The problem with the Coalition’s Direct Action is that it is simply not scalable to meet such an effort.
The implications for Australian business in abandoning carbon pricing as its biggest trading partner embraces its own are enormous. And so is the move to limit coal production. Deutsche Bank, for instance, estimates that China will cease to be an importer of coal within a few years – reducing a major source of demand for Australian coal and causing a slump in international thermal coal prices that will make even these new investment uneconomic. Over half of Australia’s thermal coal mines are already losing money, according to a recent survey.
The UK’s Climate and Energy Change Secretary Ed Davey told The Independent that China’s changing attitude to climate change made him increasingly confident that a global deal on climate action can be reached in 2015.
“At the end of last year the Chinese leadership changed and started talking about creating an ‘ecological civilisation’. This doesn’t mean they have signed up to every bit of the climate change talks, but it means they recognise that their economic model has to take account of pollution and the environment and that damage that it’s doing to people’s health,” Mr Davey said.
“I’m really much more confident than many people about our ability to get an ambitious climate change deal done in 2015. Obama in his second term clearly wants to act on this and there has been a fantastic and dramatic change in America’s position. Taken together with China’s change, the tectonic plates of global climate change negotiations are really shifting,” Mr Davey added.
Interestingly, Davey said he wants the UK to take a leading part in the global climate change discussions as part of the European negotiating block. However, he said he was concerned that the rise of the climate sceptic Ukip party could drag members of the Tory right in that direction and damage Britain’s credibility in debate on global warming.
The same concerns could be said of the Australian Coalition, given that it is led by a man who owed his elevation to the conservative right that sought to prevent the introduction of a carbon price in 2009. This remains its policy position.
Erwin Jackson, the deputy CEO of the Climate Institute said it was clear that the timeline for the implementation of the Coalition’s promised repeal of the carbon price means it would be occuring just as China and South Korea are introducing their own emissions trading schemes, and an international agreement was being forged by the deadline of 2015.
He says there will be intense scrutiny on Australia which, unlike its decision to back out of Kyoto under the Howard government, would find itself without any powerful allies if it stood in the way of international progress.
“It is difficult to imagine that Australia could stand on the sidelines,” Jackson told RenewEconomy. “China’s emissions super tanker is starting to turn. So is Australia’s, but the reason China will continue to be successful is because that they can give investors confidence that they are serious about driving low carbon development. The lessons for developed countries like Australia is that we risk being left in its wake, and washed up against the rocks if we are not careful.”