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Next Steps for China on Paris Climate Agreement

paris agreement

Paris has become a symbol of hope and commitment for the future, as more than 195 countries reached a historic agreement to protect the climate from the most dangerous impacts of climate change. As my colleague Jake Schmidt explains here, this ambitious agreement will include new climate commitments from all major countries and set in motion efforts to require deeper emissions reduction commitments from all countries over time.

What China has pledged: China has committed to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030 and to make best efforts to peak earlier. It will increase non-fossil energy to 20% of its energy consumption by 2030, which will require it to install 800 to 1,000 gigawatts in non-fossil capacity, equivalent to the entire current US generating capacity. China has shown leadership in putting a price on carbon by committing to build a national cap and trade system, which will launch in 2017 and become the world’s largest. It has also pledged 20 million RMB ($3.1 billion USD) to the South-South Climate Cooperation Fund to help developing countries address climate change. Other China climate commitments relate to carbon intensity, adaptation and forestry.

Efforts to Date:China has already been working for a number of years to reduce its CO2 emissions, improve energy efficiency, expand renewable energy and develop low carbon cities. China is on track to meet or even exceed its Copenhagen climate pledge, which was to reduce its carbon intensity by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020. China is responsible for over half of the world’s energy conservation efforts over the past two decades. China has also installed 40 percent of the world’s newly added renewable energy power over the past five years, while the country’s investment in clean and renewable energy exceeded the combined total invested by the U.S. and Europe.

Next steps: So what are the next steps for China in implementing the Paris Agreement? Here are some of the major ones:

Incorporate the agreement into national and local Five Year Plans: China’s Five Year Plans are the government’s major development blueprints for long-term social and economic policies. The 13th Five-Year Plan, which will cover the 2016-2020 time period, will be adopted in March 2016, to be followed by five-year plans for specific sectors and local governments. These plans will be an important vehicle for China to implement and operationalize its climate commitments. The government has already announced that “Green Development” will be one of the five major principles underpinning the policies for China’s long term growth.

Cap coal consumption: Putting a lid on coal is the single most important step China can take to protect the climate, since coal is responsible for 80% of China’s CO2 emissions. A national cap on coal consumption would not only cut carbon, but also clean up China’s choking air pollution, save thousands of lives and create more clean energy jobs than would be lost in the traditional coal sector. It would also help address the proliferation of new coal-fired plants, which local governments continue to approve despite existing coal-fired plant overcapacity a continuing drop in electricity demand.

Develop a priority dispatch policy for renewable power: In the September 2015 US-China agreement, China committed to adopting a clean electricity dispatch system that will prioritize power generation from renewable sources. This is critically important because, even though China now leads the world in wind and solar energy, its current electricity system still continues to give precedence to coal-fired power plants, operating these plants in order to meet minimum contracted hours, rather than operating lower-emitting renewable power plants.

Scale Up Green Buildings: China pledged in the September US-China agreement to ensure that 50 percent of all new urban buildings will meet China’s green building standards by 2020. This is a critical building block for China’s climate efforts, since buildings account for about one-quarter of China’s energy use, and the number of new buildings is expected to triple by 2030. Meeting this target will require an enormous effort, since only 2 percent of new urban buildings were green buildings in 2012, and the previous goal was 20 percent by 2015, set by the State Council in the 2013 Green Building Action Plan. But it also represents an enormous opportunity for green building companies in the US and elsewhere to participate in this expanding market.

Clean Up Transportation: China pledged to ensure that the share of public transit in all motorized urban transport reaches 30% by 2020 – presenting the potential for more huge reductions in CO2 emissions. This will require the growing number of medium-sized cities in China to make major investments in subways, buses and other public transport. China also announced that it will finalize next-stage fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles in 2016 and implement them in 2019. This is critically important because China now has the world’s second largest vehicle population after the U.S.

Continue to work to reduce highly potent short-lived climate pollutants like HFCs and black carbon. Under the U.S.-China September 2015 agreement, China has pledged to accelerate its efforts to control super greenhouse gas HFCs, including “effectively controlling HFC-23 emissions by 2020”. China will also cooperate with the U.S. to reduce HFCs, which are widely used in air conditioning and refrigeration, but for which companies have already found and are continuing to develop climate-friendly replacements.

China’s Ministry of Transportation has also just released a roadmap for controlling air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, one of the fastest growing sources of transport greenhouse gas emissions. Shipping is currently responsible for almost 3 percent of global CO2 emissions and over 2 percent of global black carbon emissions, the second most potent climate pollutant behind CO2.

Continue to Strengthen China’s GHG Monitoring and Reporting System: The new Paris Agreement contains strong provisions for all countries to regularly report their emissions and progress made towards achieving their emission reduction targets. China will need to continue to develop and strengthen its domestic rules for monitoring and reporting GHG emissions, including finalizing the mandatory GHG reporting system for all key industrial sectors that it began last year.

Avoid High Carbon Investments Overseas: China made another important commitment in the September 2015 U.S.-China climate agreement: to “strengthen green and low-carbon policies and regulations with a view to strictly controlling public investment flowing into projects with high pollution and carbon emissions both domestically and internationally”. This commitment is very significant, especially given the existing trend for China to finance fossil fuel investments in other countries. The New York Times reported today that since 2010, Chinese state enterprises have finished, begun building or formally announced plans to build at least 92 coal-fired plants in 27 countries. It will be very important to for China to exercise its leadership in the BRICS New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Silk Road Fund to ensure that all public investments meet strong low-carbon guidelines.

Now that the Paris Agreement has been reached, we look forward to seeing China’s continued climate leadership, and to work with our Chinese partners on reducing coal consumption and GHG emissions, expanding renewable energy, improving efficiency and developing low carbon cities.

Photo Credit: China and the Paris Agreement/shutterstock

Content Discussion

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on December 15, 2015

In parallel with this:

Avoid High Carbon Investments Overseas: China made another important commitment in the September 2015 U.S.-China climate agreement: to “strengthen green and low-carbon policies and regulations with a view to strictly controlling public investment flowing into projects with high pollution and carbon emissions both domestically and internationally”. This commitment is very significant, especially given the existing trend for China to finance fossil fuel investments in other countries. The New York Times reported today that since 2010, Chinese state enterprises have finished, begun building or formally announced plans to build at least 92 coal-fired plants in 27 countries. It will be very important to for China to exercise its leadership in the BRICS New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Silk Road Fund to ensure that all public investments meet strong low-carbon guidelines.

would also be:

Develop Low Carbon Nuclear Technology for Export Overseas. Simply “not selling” Chinese coal generating plants means that they could be replaced by coal generating plants produced by concerns based in other countries. Replacing Chinese coal fired plants with Chinese nuclear powered plants, but with the similar financing advantages which Chinese companies use to win the contracts for the coal fired plants, would displace the new coal fired capacity entirely.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on December 16, 2015

Great point Bruce.  China is currently building a second pair of CNP-300 (an old 300 MW design) reactors at Chasma in Pakistan.  

More importantly, this past May, they started construction of the first Hualong One 1100 MW reactor (in China).  This is a modern Gen III design which they hope to export, with talks underway for projects in Pakistan, Argentina, and the UK.

China is expected to begin construction next year of the first CAP1400.  This is a 1400 MW unit which China developed from the Westinghouse AP1000, with full Chinese ownership of all intellectual property.

source

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on December 17, 2015

Barbara, just as they didn’t in 1981, renewables’ numbers don’t add up for China (or anywhere else) if we want to have any possibility of getting a grip on climate change.

China recently committed to adding 20GW each of solar and wind in 2016, which maybe sounds like an impressive goal. Until you consider at any given moment the country is burning through an average of 624 GW of electricity, with peaks above 1 TW (1,000,000,000,000 watts). And China’s consumption is increasing annually by 4%, meaning it’s outpacing solar and wind by a factor of three. That’s going backwards.

I can appreciate how frightening Chernobyl must have been and how important it was to clean up nuclear waste from half a century ago. But 2015 is a new era, with new realities, and your organization remains hopelessly stuck in 1981. In 2013, it helped to close San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, ostensibly with the goal of replacing it with renewables. Instead, SONGS was replaced by 1.8 GW of natural gas generation, some vague targets for “efficiency”, and people staying cool by freezing blocks of ice overnight (seriously). The result was an increase in California’s carbon emissions of 9 million tons.

Generating all that electricity with natural gas requires a lot of fuel. Recently a local gas reservoir, filled to the brim with Indonesian natural gas by Sempra Energy, sprung a leak and began spewing 25 metric tonnes of methane every hour into the atmosphere – enough to meet the gas needs of every house in Los Angeles. Alone, the Aliso Canyon leak is increasing California’s natural gas CO2e emissions by 24% and is not expected to be plugged for six months. Your vision is wholly dependent on natural gas generation to remain viable.

What’s not obvious, should be – it’s time to abandon NRDC’s irrational crusade and accept that only nuclear energy offers the possibility of avoiding destruction of the Earth’s climate for both of our children.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on December 18, 2015

“China recently committed to adding 20GW each of solar and wind in 2016, which maybe sounds like an impressive goal. Until you consider at any given moment the country is burning through an average of 624 GW of electricity, with peaks above 1 TW (1,000,000,000,000 watts). And China’s consumption is increasing annually by 4%, meaning it’s outpacing solar and wind by a factor of three. That’s going backwards.”

This “going backwards” conclusion would only be true if wind and solar were the only no/low carbon energy sources that China is investing in … but it’s not, since (as shown by the three project go-aheads announced just this week), China is also building new hydropower and nuclear power generators.

Given a commitment to building new nuclear power generation at a rapid pace, and to develop as much additional reservoir hydropower as is practical, rolling out wind and solar at an increasing rate is still required if China is to get onto a track to substantial reductions in CO2e emissions while maintaining rapid economic growth rates.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on December 18, 2015

Quite. In addition to reactors at this scale, there is also a substantial need for a decarbonization of the district heating infrastructure in the country, with coal for heating representing roughly a quarter of coal consumption. District heating has a coverage rate of 76% according to the Liu Rong, VP of the China District Heating Association, with 48% coal fired boilers, 42% CHP, 8% gas fired boilers and 2% “other”. With, for example, four district heating plants for Beijing, a city of 20m, a small modular reactor that act as a drop in CHP replacement for district heating would be a tremendous step forward. At present, the CDHA does not project substantial share for nuclear energy energy in China’s energy structure through to 2050, but that kind of technological transition could be a watershed opportunity.

And when I referred to development, that was not only in reference to systems already on the market, or with development in an advanced stage, but also to earlier stages of development. China is in a position of being able to bridge the development “death valleys” between research and early trial development and early trial development and full scale deployment, so there is hope for other technologies that they are presently working on that are not as far advanced … including molten-salt reactor technologies which might be developed as part of their current research and development work on thorium/U233 fuel cycles.

As I’ve mentioned a few times previously, I am interested in the economics that may follow from operation at the temperature range of a molten salt reactor, which might enable a reactor/generator complex that instead of load following by scaling back nuclear energy generation, instead load follows by heating a storage reservoir of solar salt which is used to increase generation above steady-state reactor core output during high demand periods.

Ironically, if the Chinese were to develop technology upon these lines for their own purposes and for export to other rapidly emerging economies, they might find themselves among the few that would be in a position to bear the up front costs of getting advanced nuclear reactors certified for large scale deployment in the US.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on December 18, 2015

Bruce, I agree – for the most part. My comment was directed to Barbara, who mentions nuclear not once in her article. NRDC remains vehemently opposed to it.

Also, China’s renewables operate at a substantially lower capacity factor than those in the U.S. due to integration problems – not factored into my estimate. Though any source will be less effective when it’s contributing to a dysfunctional grid, I think it’s safe to assume the challenge of intermittency is magnified by that situation.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on December 18, 2015

Yes, I understand that you presented a biased and incomplete argument because you were addressing a biased and incomplete argument, but I’m not from the “two wrongs make a right” school.

When you refer to “integration problems”, are you referring to the Chinese willingness to build to a higher nameplate capacity than existing transmission can cope with and then address curtailment of valuable wind power that takes place by adding that to the “to-do” list for new transmission projects?

Or are you referring to other integration problems?

For the first, I would expect you to welcome that strategy, given your insistence that the variability of wind is a massive hurdle to the integration of large amounts of wind, and the fact that building in that way reduces the net variability of the wind that is delivered.

And on the latter … bear in mind that this is China we are talking about. Making decisions with forseeable consequences but only dealing with those consequences when the problems arise and somebody is yelling at somebody else to do something about it is part of how things are done. Substantial integration problems are to be expected in any roll-out done at an urgent pace, and the way many of those will be addressed in China is for the problem to emerge, become serious enough to be taken seriously, and then somebody in some position of authority makes a decision that makes somebody in a higher position of auhority less unhappy about what is happening.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on December 18, 2015

Bruce, possibly my argument appears biased and incomplete because you stopped reading after “that’s going backwards” to fire off a rebuttal? If you had continued reading, it would have been clear that my post is addressing the shortcomings of Barbara’s/NRDC’s vision, not Chinese policy.

There was a good article on TEC last year, in which Michael Davidson reports that underperformance in Chinese wind is “largely attributed to different quality of components” and not curtailment. Curtailment is a direct result of wind’s intermittency – it’s relatively easy to design infrastructure to accomodate predictable output – which makes wind inherently less valuable than you envision it to be.

http://www.theenergycollective.com/michael-davidson/346951/spilled-wind-update-china-s-wind-integration-challenges

Many are anxious to erect forests of rusting junk in the hopes that one day technology will teach the sun and wind to cooperate with demand in a more practical manner. That has proven to be expensive and unwieldy in the most technologically advanced nations of the world; elsewhere, it’s more so.