China reaffirms its most ambitious climate plan in history with tough new guidelines

Ilario D'Amato
7 May 2015

BEIJING: The Chinese government has just set the most comprehensive sustainable development plan in history, with tough new guidelines to ensure its targets are stuck to by government officials.

Announced Tuesday by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, the new guidelines reaffirm the country’s targets to reduce emissions of CO2 per unit of GDP by 40-45% compared to 2005 by 2020, while the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption must increase to around 15%.

The targets are focused on “accelerating the building of an ecological civilization” in line with China’s ‘Ecological Progress’ concept. The Climate Group released an Insight Briefing in March exploring this unique concept, which the government is putting into practice to curb its record levels of pollution, consumption and dependence on resource imports, during its five-year economic plan.

“Chinese political leadership has thought through its new development paradigm, one that is built upon ‘ecological’ foundations; those that are ecologically healthy and environmentally friendly. The new guideline is a top-level design with clearly set short-term and long-term targets to address China’s environmental and resource constraints, backed up by reshaped governance that holds officials accountable for the ecosystem health and environment quality in their jurisdiction. Failure to follow the guide would impact their political career – and if violation of laws occurs, legal liability will be pursued accordingly under the newly amended environmental law,” said Changhua Wu, Greater China Director of The Climate Group.

What is left is implementation and enforcement,” she continues. “I am delighted to see actions already on the ground to tackle air and water pollution, and very soon soil contamination too. Climate change is now recognized as among China’s priorities for national development. Now we’re in the final year of our 12th Five -Year Plan, the outcome will tell how effectively all the efforts have been. And more importantly, they will shed light on the upcoming 13th Five-Year Plan. We expect the targets set in the newly announced Guideline to become the core of the new economic plan.”

Video: Zou Yue interviews Changhua WuGreater China Director of The Climate Group on "China 24" for CCTV - 11:45 / 16:13

Clean energy leader

After four decades of economic reforms, China has emerged a world leading economic power. But its rapid industrial growth came with a price: following the carbon-heavy pathway of the developed countries brought very serious air pollution problems to China’s cities and caused the country to become the world’s biggest CO2 emitter to date.

But last November China announced it will “peak” its greenhouse gas emissions and start cutting pollution in 2030, while increasing its share of non-fossil energy to around 20% by 2030 – up from less than 10% in 2013. The unprecedented move is a clear sign of the country’s shift toward a low carbon economy guided by its Ecological Progress’ concept, and yesterday’s announcement reaffirms this ambition.

Our Insight Briefing explored in detail the economic concept, analyzing China’s challenges as well as its great potentialities. While China is the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world, it also currently leads global investment in clean energy, with last year's figures totaling US$89.5 billion – almost 29% of the world’s total renewables investment.

Ecological civilization

The new high-level Guideline aims to address China’s economic progress with an ecological approach. It is composed of 35 measures, such as capping both resource consumption and emissions. The targets also include optimizing the use of land, using resources more efficiently and protecting the environment. Crucially, the mechanism of monitoring and supervision for such targets will be reinforced.

Ecological progress is of vital importance to the future of the nation and the well-being of its people,” the Guideline says, “and is of strategic significance along with economic, political, cultural and social progress”.

The Guideline aims “to maintain a balance between population, resources and the environment, and to promote economic, social and ecological efficiency.” Other environmental targets include 80% of the major rivers and lakes to meet national water quality standards by 2030, and forest coverage to reach more than 23% of land area.

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by Ilario D'Amato

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