Two and a half years have passed since President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping announced their countries would work together to combat climate change. Last week, our new U.S. president met with the Chinese president. But climate change was not on Trump's agenda. Perhaps it should have been.
As Trump negates policies designed to achieve our Paris climate agreement obligations, policies that were stimulating new technologies, Xi Jinping is positioning China to be the world leader in clean, carbon-free fuel sources — and reaping the economic and health benefits for his country. Notably, in a Sept. 29, 2016 article in Grist, seven signs that China is serious about combating climate change, Ben Adler points to data that show that if China continues to cut emissions, or just keeps them at current levels, the country will exceed its goal of peaking emissions by around 2030 as it committed to in 2014, and again at the Paris climate talks.
Here are seven things China is doing:
1. Limiting coal use. Just after the 2014 announcement with Obama, China released an energy strategy that called for capping coal consumption by 2020; putting a three-year moratorium on new coal mines, starting in 2016; and immediately starting the shutting down of existing coal mines.
2. Carbon trading. This year, China will launch a nationwide carbon market covering the six largest carbon-emitting sectors, starting with coal-fired electricity generation.
3. Cleaning up cars and trucks. This is essential to reducing CO2 emissions that pollute the air in cities and account for roughly one-third of Beijing’s epic smog. China it is providing incentives for buying hybrids and electric cars and enforcing stricter fuel-efficiency standards for new cars.
4. Making buildings more energy-efficient. Two years ago, China started issuing requirements for energy-efficient upgrades to buildings.
5. Building renewable capacity. China is investing heavily in developing wind and solar energy. “China has emerged as a leader in renewable energy,” reported Ranping Song and a colleague in a blog post in April 2016: “Investment soared from $39 billion to $111 billion in just five years, while electric capacity for solar power grew 168-fold and wind power quadrupled.”
6. Building nuclear reactors. In September 2016, China announced it would build at least 60 new nuclear power plants within a decade.
7. Building high-speed rail. To limit transportation emissions, China is rapidly building high-speed rail. It already has more than 11,800 miles of high-speed rail that carry 2.7 million riders daily, and expansion plans are on the drawing board.
China is enacting policies designed to create a higher standard of living without increased carbon emissions. Why is this happening? China has enormous low-lying cities that will be largely underwater in a century if climate change is not addressed. A piece in the April 7, 2017, New York Times: Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities, by Michael Kimmelman, also examines this problem in depth.
It’s astonishing that the Trump administration has issued executive orders pulling back clean-air initiatives of Obama’s administration, along with budget proposals that would slash funding for the EPA by one third, wiping away institutional knowledge by related staffing cuts. These actions run counter to our international commitments and weaken efforts to lead in solar, wind and other clean-energy technology.
As a constituent of Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart, I urge them to join bipartisan efforts to address climate change exemplified by the House Climate Solutions Caucus, which now has 34 members, including Rep. Mia Love.
Jim Wightman is a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby and retired director of internal audits for Salt Lake County.