Are China, Brazil and the U.S. Going to be World Leaders in Climate Change?

“China’s carbon dioxide emission will peak by around 2030 and China will work hard to achieve the target at an even earlier date.”
—Chinese Premier Li Keqiang

Here’s some good news: the U.S., China and Brazil all made new commitments to fight climate change earlier this week, well in advance of December’s United Nations conference in Paris.

According to the White House, the U.S. and Brazil have both pledged to increase their production of electricity from renewable sources to reach 20 percent by the year 2030. That’s pretty significant as it amounts to three times more than the U.S. currently generates and twice as much as Brazil currently generates. In addition, Brazil will also introduce new measures to to help reduce significant deforestation. The announcement came during a meeting between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and President Barack Obama. According to Brian Deese, senior climate change adviser at the White House, this joint announcement helps build on the progress seen so far. In his words:

[these measures] should provide momentum moving into our shared objective of getting an agreement in Paris later this year.

When it rains, it pours: not to be outdone, the Chinese government has pledged to reach peak emissions by 2030. By then, China wants a reduction in carbon intensity by about two-thirds compared to 2005 levels. (Carbon intensity is a measure of the amount of carbon emissions per unit gross domestic product.) The Chinese announcement came after a meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had with French President Francois Hollande.

Some may argue these announcements are nothing more than a lot of hot air, but I disagree. With these pledges, China, the U.S., and Brazil all position themselves as world leaders in targeting climate change well ahead of the U.N. December climate change conference in Paris. The optimistic goal of that event is to finally reach a binding agreement that will significantly reduce carbon emissions, something absolutely necessary if we ever hope to combat climate change. Such announcements will make it harder for some nations of the world to keep using the excuse “If the two biggest emitters aren’t doing anything, why should we?”

Now let’s see what Canada and Australia can come up with.

Good News: China's Coal Use is Down

“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”
Marie Curie

For the first time in the 21st century, China’s coal consumption is down. Last year its consumption of coal dropped by 2.9 percent while its production dropped by 2.5 percent. Given that the Chinese government announced only three months ago that it would reach a peak of coal use by the year 2020 and a peak of greenhouse gas emission by 2030, this observation suggests it might happen even sooner and helps disprove those who argued that China couldn’t achieve this pledge they made with the U.S. unless they shut down their economy. (As if fossil fuels are the only path to economic growth and a healthy economy.)

Given that China has been opening up new coal-fired power plants every week for the last 20 years to help boost its growing economy—leading them to become the largest carbon dioxide emitters on the planet ahead of the U.S.—this drop in coal consumption is a good thing. Oh, they’re still after more energy but they’ll do it by “increas[ing] the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.” That translates into the addition of somewhere between 800 and 1,000 gigawatts of carbon-free power over the next decade and a half. Just how much is that? By comparison, it’s more than all coal-fired power plants China has currently running, and it almost equals all of the electricity generation capacity in the US. Continue reading

China Commits to Phasing Out Coal!

“Bad news travels at the speed of light; good news travels like molasses.”
Tracy Morgan

Here’s today’s good news: the Chinese government—the political leaders of the nation with the largest emissions of greenhouse gases on the planet—announced earlier this week that their country is going to put a cap on its use of coal. They announced that China’s peak emissions will reach 4.2 billion tonnes. That’s still about a 15 percent increase over their present annual consumption, so in other words we should expect an ongoing climb before the decline will start. China has pledged that the peak will be reached by 2030 at the very latest, and many experts predict the peak will be reached before this decade is up.

In order to accomplish this, the Chinese will need to decrease their current rate of one or two new coal-fired power plants being built every week while they steadily increase their development of renewable energy at the same time. In order to achieve this goal, they need to start right now and not at some undefined point in the future. (Are you listening Canada and the U.S.?)

Will they be able to achieve these lofty goals? There’s actually a number of reasons to be optimistic: Continue reading

China and the US Agree to Make History

“Science literacy is the artery through which the solutions of tomorrow’s problems flow.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson

How many times have people expressed frustration that the world’s two largest emitters of carbon—namely China and the U.S.—aren’t doing enough to change that fact, to lead the way and demonstrate to the rest of the world: “We can do it, and so can you.” So earlier this week we saw the first hints that maybe they’re finally on the right track as China and the U.S. announced an agreement that resulted from nine months of quiet discussions that had been taking place between the two nations.

President Obama announced very ambitious emissions reduction targets as part of the agreement. These new targets will try to double the rate of reductions from current goals, reducing emissions rates by over 25 percent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2025. That’s a dramatic increase compared to the 17 percent reduction agreed to in Copenhagen back in 2009. The U.S. State Department stated such a reduction would be equivalent to scrapping up to 24 Keystone XL pipelines. China’s commitment is to obtain 20 percent of its energy from sources other than fossil fuels by the year 2030, with a goal of reaching peak emissions the same year.

And is the Republican-led Congress loving this? Not exactly. Continue reading

Shanghai Will Soon Be Forbidding Coal

“The frequency of heavy pollution will be significantly reduced by 2017. The air quality will better meet residents’ expectations as well as the general qualifications of building an international metropolis.”
—Wu Qizhou, deputy director of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau

A few blog posts back, I applauded the provincial government of Ontario for shutting one of its coal-fired power plants in Lambton. As an environmentalist and a physician, I see nothing but good to come from moving away from coal, the worst of the fossil fuels when it comes to greenhouse gases.

One of my followers pointed out that pollution has in fact been decreasing in Canada and that since Ontario has opened up other power plants using different fossil fuels, it’s really not the big news I portrayed it to be.

My answer to that is that any coal plant that gets shut down is a victory. And just because Canada has been improving in its pollution index doesn’t mean we stop trying to make it even better. Global warming is global; our country may be moving in the right direction when it comes to pollution, but many other countries are not.

Case in point: China. I’ve was there back in 2009 and when I was on the mainland I never once saw blue sky. On my excursion to the Great Wall, our guide said it had been 43 days since he had seen blue sky. Continue reading