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China softens tone on climate ambition amid power shortages
Climate change

China softens tone on climate ambition amid power shortages

30.07.2021 From our online archive
Ruling Communist Party’s Politburo urges an easing of measures to avoid hampering economic growth
China's President Xi Jinping has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2060
China's President Xi Jinping has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2060
Photo credit: Foto: AFP

China’s top policy makers urged an easing of the aggressive measures taken to reduce carbon emissions as Beijing balances economic health with its climate goals.

The strict, top-down enforcement of China’s emission reduction goals is seen hampering the country’s efforts to stimulate slowing economic growth. The Communist Party’s Politburo urged a coordinated, orderly approach to reach carbon neutrality, according to a report published by the official Xinhua News Agency after a meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping.

The July meeting of the 25-member Politburo is typically when they review the economy’s performance in the first half and set policy priorities for the rest of the year. The Xinhua report didn’t elaborate on what measures need to be taken on Xi’s target to reduce the top polluter’s emissions to zero by 2060.

The Politburo’s recommendation comes as coal, China’s principal energy source, is in short supply as a trade spat with Australia crimped imports, while a spate of fatal mining accidents has tightened safety inspections. At the same time, efforts to limit the use of the dirtiest fossil fuel have encouraged local authorities to phase out some mining operations, sharpening the deficit.

Coal prices in China have climbed toward record levels as the country’s electricity providers struggle to keep the power on during heat waves. The National Development and Reform Commission has said that the power shortage may worsen amid the extreme weather.

In China, new policies can be introduced under “campaign-style” governance, which often involve drastic measures to achieve a certain goal in a short space of time. While the approach has contributed to improvement in the country’s environment quality, there’s also risks that policies are implemented inappropriately as local governments clamour to meet political targets.

For instance, villagers in northern China were left shivering in the winter of 2017, after local governments mandated switching to cleaner natural gas from burning coal as part of efforts to reduce smog. The plan was scrapped after a severe gas crunch.

“Climate politics are still in flux,” said Li Shuo, an analyst at Greenpeace East Asia. “The carbon neutrality announcement mobilised the Chinese bureaucratic system to seek solutions. But this process is certainly not resistance free.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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