Earth Talk: Is China helping or harming the battle against climate change? | lifestyle

Dear EarthTalk: I’m confused: Is the Chinese government committed to fighting climate change or is it just exacerbating the problem?

Paul J., Austin, Texas

Following the global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, countries around the world are not only doing some self-reflection, but also expecting others to bear their brunt as we desperately try to keep the planet from warming. China is a common target of criticism in terms of emissions; the most populous country on the planet uses fossil fuels for 87% of its energy production. To make matters worse, 80% of that fossil fuel use is represented by coal energy production. China is the world’s largest coal producer, consuming more than half of global supply.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has responded to criticism around the country’s coal production by pledging to reduce coal use gradually from 2026 and halt construction of new coal-fired power plants overseas. Although they will not expand coal-fired power plants to other countries, China has 60 new coal-fired power plants produced nationally, arguing that they have the right to pollute as they develop their country as Western countries do to develop their economy.

China has been the world leader in carbon dioxide emissions since 2006, and today they are responsible for 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. While they have proven to be prolific polluters, the country has also shown that they are on the cutting edge of renewable energy. China leads the world in solar energy production with 254,355 megawatts per year, while the next closest country, the United States, produces only 75,572 megawatts.

It is important to note that when it comes to raw data related to greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy production, China’s 1.4 billion people (more than four times the US) increase those values. When broken down into energy use percentages, the United States and China are much closer than they seem. The United States uses renewable energy for 9% of its total energy production while China’s renewable energy production accounts for 10% of their total energy use. Both countries were rated as “grossly inadequate” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their efforts to achieve the emission reduction goals needed to reduce warming.

China’s latest announcements include their goal of reaching peak emissions by 2030 and ultimately achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. While these goals are far from being able to reduce the impact of warming, environmental diplomats are optimistic that China will reach this goal early, arguing that China has reached nine of the 15 quantitative targets in the 2015 climate commitments ahead of schedule.

Reducing emissions doesn’t mean that China will cut all of their fossil fuel use, but they can also sequester carbon through reforestation. China is becoming greener at a faster rate than any other country with some areas increasing vegetation cover by 16% per decade. On a global scale, while the country’s population makes their pollution figures look much worse, they are on the same path as other global leaders like the United States: taking “green” steps, but not fast enough.

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