China's climate policy and COP26: China will “fight” for shouldering what it deems its fair and feas

Anxiously awaited by the international community, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) submitted the nationally determined contributions (NDC), China’s decarbonization commitment as part of the Paris Agreement, shortly ahead of COP26 that ended on 12 Nov 2021. In the meantime, China’s State Council has issued the guidance policy for China’s carbon peak and carbon neutrality target and the National 2030 Carbon Peak Plan detailing for the first-time the decarbonization roadmap. In its NDC, China’s ambition for increasing its renewable energy capacity and forest stock stand out.

Assessment

  • China’s NDC to COP26 simply reiterate Xi’s announcements at the Climate Ambition Summit and the UN General Assembly both in 2020, disappointing those who speculated China may bring up “game-changing” commitments. In fact, before COP26, China’s central government was even criticizing the aggressive decarbonization actions taken by provincial governments, which have been hurting China’s economic development and the supply chain security.

  • Now, it has become manifest that China is reluctant to increase its contribution to global decarbonization efforts beyond what it deems “fair and feasible”. Accordingly, in a press conference last week, the MEE continued to defend the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, advocating for differentiated responsibilities between developed and developing countries. Literally, the guidance policy for China’s carbon peak and carbon neutrality target uncompromisingly states that China must “fight” to defend its right to development as a developing country with a different starting position compared to developed economies.

  • Nonetheless, China’s willingness to cooperate with the US in climate change is real. In a symbolic move, China promised as part of the Joint US-China Glasgow Declaration to develop a National Action Plan on methane, a previously ignored but highly critical carbon emission source. Moreover, Kerry and Xie, the two respective climate envoys, are operationalizing a working level structure.

Implications

  • Looking at China’s “National 2030 Carbon Peak Plan”, it sees industrial efficiency, driven by both energy efficiency and carbon intensity, as the key lever for decarbonization in this crucial decade.

  • The “peak plan” stipulates that China will start to tightly manage the energy consumption by the industrial sector and will require the critical steel and petrochemical sectors to peak by 2030.

  • Energy consumption limits, along with the ongoing electricity market reform requiring companies to purchase electricity directly from the electricity trading market, will raise pressure on industrial firms to improve production efficiency and even compete in the sourcing of stable supply of clean energy.

Unofficial translation: China’s Achievements, New Goals and New Measures for Nationally Determined Contributions

State Council: 国务院关于印发2030年前碳达峰行动方案的通知