Photo: China's climate commitment

Credit: Credit: kyo628 via Flickr

By Winnie Hwo, Public Engagement and Chinese Communications Specialist

Reactions around the world to the Paris UN climate agreement last week ranged from cheers to comments decrying the focus on promises and lack of action. The same can be said about reactions to China's commitment to the Paris Agreement.

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China is the highest carbon emitter — producing 11 billion tons in 2013, almost double U.S. emissions — so a more aggressive emissions target is essential to keep global temperature rise below the 2 C limit.

Just six years ago in Copenhagen, the summit collapsed in acrimony and was deemed a failure. The Paris Agreement, on the other hand, demonstrated compromise and co-operation. China was encouraged to take action to address mounting pressure at home to deal with extreme weather, droughts, flooding, crop losses and air quality advisories.

Those applauding the Paris Agreement point to the six nations, including China, that produce 60 per cent of the world's carbon emissions committing to report their plans and results every five years starting in 2020. Skeptics don't believe high-emitting nations such as China will actually follow through.

News reports from China, however, give hope. China's Central Government news agency reports that the commitment to cut carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and require carbon emissions to peak by the same year is significant. Renewable energy consumption will increase to about 20 per cent over the same period. For the first time, Chinese leaders acknowledge they need to do better for their people and their country's stability.

"China is quite self-motivated when it comes to fighting climate change," Xinhua reported. "With a large population, China is facing increasing resource constraints, severe environmental pollution and a deteriorating ecosystem, and its citizens are also becoming increasingly aware of environmental problems."

It may take years for vast, diverse China to plan for change and get buy in at all levels. Local governments bearing the brunt of climate change effects need the national government's assurance that a cleaner energy future won't create unbearable pain.

In an interview on CBC Radio's "The Current", academic Tao Wang said, "China has gone through three decades of fast growth mostly from heavy industrialization, producing for China and developed nations. For China to peak emission in the next 15 years is very aggressive."

China's road to a new climate future under the Paris Agreement will be challenging. But India, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., Russia and Canada also face significant challenges.

China is responding to internal and global pressure, which led to the China-U.S. agreement before the Paris summit. California has been advising on climate strategy, especially cap-and-trade approaches, which China has committed to begin in 2017.

We can either refuse to accept that change is possible or we can each do our part to build a cleaner world. Canada can help China reach its commitments by being a friend and mentor — two roles we've played well in the past.

December 16, 2015

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