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.

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

A Green Party-led government for the world's fourth largest economy? That's no longer far-fetched. As Signal's Gabrielle Debinski wrote last month, most current polls now show Germany's Greens in first place in federal elections set for September 26. And for the first time, the Greens have a candidate for chancellor. Annalena Baerbock is vying to replace Angela Merkel, who has led Germany for the past 16 years.

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India and Brazil are currently the world's top two COVID hotspots. But while India's crisis is — at least according to official statistics — a relatively recent one, Brazil's COVID disaster has been an ongoing train wreck. Where India seemed to have kept the pandemic under control until some bad missteps about two months ago, COVID has been wreaking havoc in Brazil almost constantly for over a year now. And President Jair Bolsonaro's macho-posturing and COVID denialism has clearly not helped. We take a look at average daily new cases and deaths in both countries since the pandemic began.

US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.

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28: Yair Lapid, leader of Israel's opposition Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, has 28 days to form a new government. President Reuven Rivlin tapped Lapid after incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to cobble together a governing coalition by Tuesday's midnight deadline, further prolonging Israel's political stalemate.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

How big of a blow is Apple's new privacy feature to companies like Facebook, who depend on tracking users?

The long-awaited update, including enhanced privacy features, actually empowers those users to decide not to be tracked. So that's great news for people who are sick of how the data trail they leave behind on the web is used. But it has to be said, that simple feature settings changed by Apple cannot solve the problem of misuse of data and microtargeting alone. Still, Apple's move was met with predictable outrage and anti-trust accusations from ad giant Facebook. I would anticipate more standard setting by companies in the absence of a federal data protection law in the United States. That's just to mention one vacuum that big tech thrives on.

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India’s COVID crisis hits home

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