Beijing, January 18, 2020. -
NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP
Will the world's largest polluter be able to meet his target?
If China created the surprise on Tuesday by committing to carbon neutrality by 2060, many questions remain unanswered.
Responsible for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, China is also the country that invests the most in renewable energies and a key player in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Small inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of China in climate matters.
What has China promised?
The surprise announcement was made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a speech to the UN General Assembly.
The strong man from Beijing assured that his country aimed to "start to lower CO2 emissions before 2030" and achieve "carbon neutrality by 2060".
China is the world's biggest polluter, ahead of the United States, and this is the first time that it has set such an ambitious target.
But the Chinese president gave no details.
His country has largely built its growth from fossil fuels.
And the country continues to build new coal-fired power stations every year, which pollutes a lot.
The very notion of carbon neutrality has not been substantiated by Xi Jinping.
His words are therefore subject to "all interpretations," said Lauri Myllyvirta, analyst for the Energy and Clean Air Research Center (CREA), based in Finland.
And the expert noted that before the peak of emissions of 2030, China has "still a decade" to put more polluting plants into service.
What place does coal have?
Coal has been the engine of China's phenomenal economic boom.
Its annual consumption almost quadrupled between 1990 and 2015, to represent 70% of the country's energy consumption.
Chinese leaders have since reduced this dependence on coal (less than 60% today).
But as total energy consumption has increased, that of coal has mathematically increased (+ 1% last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics).
China's coal production capacities, under construction or planned, represent nearly 250 gigawatts.
That is to say more than the current production of the United States or India, according to CREA.
What about renewable energies?
China is the country that invests the most in renewable energies in the world.
But non-fossil fuels only account for about 15% of energy consumption.
Wind turbines and solar power are still a small drop in the country's electricity production.
In 2018, they only provided 7.7% of China's energy needs, according to Kevin Tu, a researcher at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University in the United States.
Investments in new wind and solar installations have also been declining for 18 months.
And logistical problems are sometimes a brake on the enormous ambitions in terms of renewable energies in the country.
The immense region of Xinjiang (northwest), which supplies most of the wind power in China, canceled around thirty projects in the first half of the year "because they could not be connected" to the electricity grid, according to the local government.
2060, is that realistic?
"The renewable energy industry in China is the largest (in the world), the country is also the one that invests the most in this sector and it has the largest industrial base, so it is eminently achievable," Lauri says. Myllyvirta.
It remains to be seen whether Chinese leaders will have the political will to question the fundamentals of the economy.
The veil should be partly lifted next year when the future five-year plan is published.
In the pure communist tradition, it is he who sets the main orientations of the country.
But Beijing is also helping to finance nearly 240 coal-fired power plant projects around the world, according to data from Endcoal, an environmental NGO.
What suddenly, emptying of their substance its efforts to turn away from polluting energies.
For now, the 2060 goal "looks a bit like science fiction," said Greenpeace China climate and energy manager Li Shuo, for whom "unprecedented investments" will be needed.
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