How China fits into global climate change

How China fits into global climate change

Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.


The world's smokestack. Burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow has been essential for China's economy, now the world's second-largest, to have grown around 10 percent annually for most of the past thirty years. The tradeoff for that growth is massive pollution, which continues today and is the main reason China is not on track to meet its emissions reduction targets in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.

When carbon emissions from China's coal plants and smoke-belching factories get stuck in the atmosphere, they contribute to the global warming that leads to stronger monsoon floods in Bangladesh, longer droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, and more frequent cyclones in the Gulf of Mexico.

It's not that China doesn't care about the problems it causes other countries. But it's only fair, the Chinese argue, that we get the same shot at growing our economy through fossil fuels that industrialized Western countries got when they started polluting the planet way before we started to.

Climate is a big deal inside China. Once-arable lands in the interior are now barren, Beijing has long experienced poor air quality and increasingly frequent sand storms, and rising sea levels threaten major coastal cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai. No matter how fast the Chinese want to get rich, they are no longer willing to do so at the expense of their environment.

So, what is China doing about all this? First, China is embracing renewables at a scale the proponents of the Green New Deal in the US would balk at. In 2020, China accounted for more than half of the world's added electrical capacity from renewables. Second, the Chinese are betting on modern nuclear plants to become a more reliable and clean(ish) alternative in the country's energy mix.

At the same time, though, China has not only not abandoned coal, but is rather doubling down on new coal-fired plants. Xi, though, has an ace up his sleeve: carbon capture and storage technology, which traps emissions before they are released into the air and keeps them stored underground.

If widely adopted by heavy industry, it is estimated that carbon capture could cut China's emissions by at least 15 percent in 2060. What's more, emissions could be slashed by an additional 20 percent if the stored carbon is transformed into clean hydrogen, which Beijing expects to power nine out of 10 vehicles — including aircraft — to meet its net-zero target.

Beijing is also making a global play for green tech. The so-called "factory of the world" is reinventing itself to cash in on climate. China — which is increasingly looking to tech to solve all its problems — has already cornered the global market on affordable solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. The next step is to make carbon capture and clean hydrogen accessible and cheap for the rest of the world.

Dominating the global market for green tech is a win-win for Beijing: Chinese companies would benefit tremendously, and China itself would take credit for doing more than its fair share to save the planet.

But the Chinese don't want to do it all alone. A major sticking point in current US-China climate negotiations is that Beijing is demanding that America and its allies pitch in more cash for developing countries to wean themselves of fossil fuels. The Chinese complain that rich nations which demand net zero targets for all gobble up most of the available budget to help everyone go green.

China wants to open the floodgates of climate finance to increase global demand for Chinese green tech. Will US tech firms step up their game to compete with them? Earth will surely benefit from that.

Visit Microsoft on The Issues for a front-row seat to see how Microsoft is thinking about the future of sustainability, accessibility, cybersecurity and more. Check back regularly to watch videos, and read blogs and feature stories to see how Microsoft is approaching the issues that matter most. For the latest, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

More Show less

Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

More Show less

It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

More Show less

The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

More Show less

158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal