China Seen Capping Emissions in the Five Years From 2026 in Boost for Global Climate Fight (6)

–China’s carbon market officially starts in two days (Feb. 1)
–Precise date of carbon cap remains unclear

–EU welcomes China’s moves

By Mathew Carr

Jan. 9-29, 2021 — LONDON: China is seen capping its national emissions of greenhouse gas for the first time.

It will strive to do so in the five years starting 2026, after beginning experiments on caps in regional areas, according to a China Daily report.

Precisely when the cap will start remains a mystery.

But, importantly, it’s the first time the nation has said it will probably agree to a physical cap. Until now it’s been only willing to cut emissions measured as a portion of a unit of economic output, which gives no guarantee of a physical limit.

It’s a hard, declining cap that the climate needs, which would boost the chance of global emissions falling quickly from current levels. While China’s emissions have grown, on a per person basis they remain far below those in the U.S.

It might sound technical, but it’s some of the most important news for our climate in the past 30 years, the period when countries agreed to tackle heat-trapping gas via the United Nations to avoid global warming. This also potentially pivots China from its “developing country” mindset (but for now China is sticking with its line that it’s the biggest developing nation).

Given its population, China’s move makes it the world’s biggest climate champion (if it wasn’t before).

A hard emissions cap from the world’s most populous nation, and biggest emitter by far, will make it politically easier for U.S. President Joe Biden to impose aggressive climate measures in the U.S.A., the country most to blame for the climate crisis.

Biden’s potential control of lawmaking for at least two years may have influenced the timing of China’s announcement on its planned cap at some point in the five years through 2030.

“One of the nice things about communist dictatorships is that you can afford to take the long-term perspective,” said Yvo De Boer, former executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “You don’t need to worry about the day-to-day sentiments and concerns of voters.”

“I’ve seen the Republicans and the Democrats come and go. I’ve seen Bill Clinton sign the Kyoto Protocol and Bush tear it up,” de Boer said by phone. “I’ve seen Obama sign the Paris agreement and Trump tear it up. So they come and they go every four years or eight years, but the Chinese communist party stays, so I think they were trying to be sensible. The overriding driver will always be what’s best for the Chinese economy — and international relations are part of that but not the entire driver.”

The U.S. and China have been locked in a trade dispute for much of former President Donald Trump’s four-year term. The global pandemic has caused emissions to plunge, especially in specific nations including the U.S.:

At a news conference on 5 January, Li Gao, head of climate change at the China ecology/environment ministry, said the Asian nation will make efforts to tighten emission allowance allocation under its planned carbon market as the country forges ahead to establish a carbon emission management mechanism with a national emission cap, China Daily said Jan. 7 in a story that was subsequently published Jan. 8 on the website of the nation’s environment ministry.

That publication on the official government site gives it added credibility:

Setting a target on carbon intensity-or carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP- is what the country has done until now. That will be a stepping stone during the next five years, Li said, according to the report.

“But we are also considering introducing caps on carbon emissions in some key regions to align air pollution control with carbon reduction,” he said.

“With the experiences we accumulate in these trials, we will strive to transform our carbon emission management mechanism from one with a carbon intensity cap to one with an emission upper limit during the 15th Five-Year Plan period (2026-30),” he said, adding that the ministry will tighten emission allowance allocation accordingly as it promotes the transition.

Photo by Ruiyang Zhang on

China’s plan could provide a template “for other nations,” the report said.

China plans to peak its emissions before 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2060, 10 years after the U.S. and the EU, two regions with more historical responsibility for climate change.

I asked the EU commission to comment. This is what it said earlier this month:

“We welcome the publication of the rules on China’s national emissions trading system.

·       By putting a requirement on power companies across the country to participate in the Chinese ETS (emissions trading system) from February 2021, to cover emissions from 2019 and 2020, China has shown that it is taking concrete implementing measures to achieve its climate target.

·       The ETS will provide an incentive for power companies to reduce their emissions and paves the way for a China-wide carbon price. We welcome indications that China will strive to  move from the current intensity based targets for CO2 emissions to one based on an absolute cap on emissions during the 15th five year plan 2026-2030 (so some time before end-2030). 

·       Once in operation, the Chinese national system is expected to evolve and expand over time. We expect it to increasingly play an central role in reducing China’s GHG emissions, driving innovation and the transition towards decarbonisation and climate neutrality.

·       The EU and China have been cooperating on carbon markets for many years, and we are ready to deepen this cooperation, to build on our respective experience and expertise.”

(Updates with photo and makes official’s title more clear, fixes garble in second paragraph of earlier version; adds comments by de Boer, adds chart; corrects name in ninth paragraph; updates with declining emissions in 2020; makes clear China may not cap its emissions during the whole of the five-year period starting 2026; adds on Jan. 29 complete EU response to my questions; China has not responded to my requests for clarity on the date from which the cap might apply)


Leave a Reply