China's Carbon Emissions Need to Peak by 2020 for World to Meet Global Reduction Goals: IEA

wind turbine in china photo

photo: Scott Chang

With China's leading the globe in national carbon emissions, and per capita emissions now being higher than those in France, this is all the more poignant: Reuters reports that the head of the International Energy Agency told a briefing in Beijing that if the world will have any chance of reducing emissions globally by 50% by 2050, then China's emissions will have to peak by 2020. Two things complicating the situation:

1) A 50% reduction global reduction by 2050 is the absolute minimum required, according to the IPCC, to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic global warming. Keep in mind that emission reductions in rich nations have to drop even more, and that a good number of prominent climate scientists would probably argue that even 50% globally is not enough.

2) Despite the fact that China's per capita emissions now place it among the lowest-emitting nations of Europe--which to my mind brings into question the accuracy of calling it a developing nation--China shows little willingness to commit to a trajectory where emissions peak anytime before 2050, let alone three decades earlier.

Chinese academics in attendance responded critically to the remarks, saying the 2020 peak target -- together with a projected 36 percent cut in coal consumption by 2050 -- would force China to sacrifice economic growth. (Reuters)

Not Cutting Emissions Will Hurt Economy Much More
Whether that's actually true or not is debatable. What's less debatable is the fact that such statements show a crucial practical and intellectual disconnect between the inherent interconnectedness of economic activity and environmental integrity.

A recent survey by the UNEP shows that current environmental degradation costs the world trillions of dollars, and that a business-as-usual approach will only lead to further biodiversity loss and further financial loss.

It all comes down to the fact that emission reductions will hurt China's economy far less than the biodiversity loss and environmental degradation caused by not doing so.

All of which isn't to say China is making good strides: Like the US and Europe, new investments in renewable energy are outpacing those in coal-powered electricity. But as IEA director Nubuo Tanaka bluntly puts it, "China can do much better than its [energy] intensity target [reduction] of 40-45 percent."

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More on China & Global Climate Change:
West 'Responsible' For Third of China's CO2 Emissions
China No Longer a Developing Nation - Per Capita Carbon Emissions Higher Than France's
China Agrees to Start Cutting Carbon Emissions... By 2050

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