Following the recent commitments by EU members at the UN Climate Summit in New York to reduce emissions to 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030, both the USA and China – the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases – have pledged to slow and reduce their respective greenhouse emissions over the coming decades. The move is being heralded as a major step forward in combating climate change, ahead of the 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris.
According to the White House, the USA’s target is to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to ‘26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025’, while China aims to ‘peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030’.
Global carbon dioxide emissions grew by 2.3 per cent in 2013, to a record 36.1 billion tonnes, according to the Global Carbon Project. The USA’s CO2 emissions grew by two per cent, slightly less than the global average, while China’s CO2 emissions grew at 4.2 per cent, a drop from 5.9 per cent in 2012, as its economic growth slowed. The only country whose CO2 emissions grew faster in 2013 was India, at 5.1 per cent, although overall Indian CO2 emissions were still significantly less than those of China and the USA.
Most carbon dioxide emissions growth in 2013 can be attributed to increasing coal consumption, especially in the USA, where consumption had dropped as a result of the shale gas boom which started in 2007.
As the White House notes, meeting its targets will be a significant challenge for China, requiring ‘an additional 800–1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States’.
However, as reported in Geographical, China installed more solar power in 2013 – 12 gigawatts worth – than the USA currently has in total. It also has – already installed – the capacity to generate an annual 91 gigawatts of wind energy, compared to 61 gigawatts in the USA, making it the world leader in wind energy.
Much of China’s motivation for pursuing renewable energy policies has been as a result of the high levels of air pollution recorded in its cities in recent years. According to the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, last year 74 Chinese cities exceeded the WHO maximum safe limits for air pollution.