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Beijing's Commitment to the Planet

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Renewable Energy

China has taken several steps to tackle climate change, but China’s status as the world’s largest carbon emitter, among other things, have led many to question the sincerity of Beijing’s commitment to climate action.

Via the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Background and Chinese Action Climate change is undeniably one of the world’s most pressing challenges, and in the past few years we have seen the international community at large increasingly make commitments and take steps aimed at reducing carbon emissions. China has been no exception to the rising international environmental consciousness, despite their significant carbon footprint. China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, generating roughly one-third of the global carbon emissions. After several decades of remarkable economic growth, powered in large part by coal-fired plants -- the major contributor to air pollutants -- China has acknowledged the importance of developing renewable energy sources due to the dire strategic and economic implications of current climate predictions. China has made significant investments in renewable energy over the last decade, spending twice that of the US. In 2021, President Xi Jinping restated a goal of reaching peak carbon emissions by 2030 and pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, which is an incredibly ambitious goal for Beijing to set. Clean energy is a major component of Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, with China dramatically increasing domestic investment in clean energy, rolling in ambitious and innovating strategies like the establishment of “Green Pilot Finance Zones” in several major Chinese cities in order to spur clean energy development. As of early 2017, China owns “five of the world’s six largest solar module manufacturing companies and the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer.” China is balancing an increasing demand for electricity, their goal of energy security, and the enormous investment required for carbon neutrality. China plans to generate 1,200 gigawatts of solar and wind power, which is equivalent to the entire U.S. power consumption, by 2030. The grid infrastructure alone to carry the electricity is expected to cost roughly $300 billion.

US Reactions and Future Implications

Despite seemingly genuine steps taken by China to tackle climate change and Beijing’s signaling its commitment to reducing emissions, many of their concrete actions have drawn skepticism from American observers. While China has made strides in solar and wind power and currently leads the world in these clean energies, they have paradoxically increased their coal generation alongside this. This has led many US policymakers and experts to question whether China is genuine about their commitments to curbing climate change, whether they are making them for international appearances, or even in order to use the promise of climate action as a diplomatic bargaining chip. American skeptics of China’s climate efforts argue that these efforts are motivated purely by self-interest, and that energy security is Beijing’s priority above climate action as evidenced by their continued expansion of coal power. Contrary to this thesis, however, is the fact that China has made significant investments in renewable energy and last year referred to climate change as a “crisis. Additionally, some policymakers that believe in the earnestness of Beijing’s climate action acknowledge that even if it is for self-serving purposes, China’s inclusion and participation in climate change negotiations is imperative.


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