Asia

China’s economic stimulus after COVID-19 could put 2020 climate pledges at risk, say analysts

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BEIJING: China may struggle to meet its climate pledges this year as it turns to heavy industry and carbon-intensive projects to shore up its coronavirus-stricken economy, government researchers and analysts say.

China pledged to cut "carbon intensity" – the amount of CO2 emissions it produces per unit of GDP – by 40 per cent to 45 per cent from 2005-2020 as part of the global climate change pact it signed in Paris in 2015.

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The world's biggest greenhouse gas producing country had been on course to reach its target at the end of last year, prompting calls for Beijing to set more ambitious goals.

But experts say the economic damage done by the pandemic – especially to the less carbon-intensive service sector – has made the target far harder to meet.

"We had thought it wouldn't be a problem for China to meet the carbon targets if previous efforts continued to be carried out," said an expert at a think tank affiliated with China's state planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

"But the coronavirus outbreak and the approaches to economic stimulus may bring uncertainties," said the expert, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

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READ: Lives not lost: Asia sees unexpected gains in COVID-19 lockdowns

In its own five-year plan, China pledged to cut carbon intensity by 18 per cent from 2015 to 2020, and energy intensity – the amount consumed per unit of economic growth – by 15 per cent.

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By last year, energy intensity had fallen 13.2 per cent compared to 2015, according to Reuters calculations based on official data.

China had also slashed carbon intensity by 18.4 per cent compared with 2015 and by more than 45 per cent compared with 2005, putting it on course to meet its own target as well as its Paris pledge.

The coronavirus outbreak caused China's carbon emissions to fall 25 per cent in February, according to one estimate, and another study published this week said CO2 emissions from fossil fuel sources fell by as much as 17 per cent a day worldwide in April.

But there are already signs China is turning to "dirty" industries and investments to kickstart its economy, which slowed for the first time in decades in the first quarter.

READ: China smog rises in April for first time this year

READ: China's delayed parliament to focus on reviving coronavirus-hit economy

More heavy industrial output and infrastructure construction over the rest of the year, combined with a weakened service sector, will raise the amount of CO2 produced per unit of GDP growth, analysts say.

"The magnitude of the coronavirus risks turning things upside down… Much will depend on the economic recovery policies Beijing sets over the next few weeks," said Li Shuo, senior adviser with environment group Greenpeace.

"PROJECTS ARE KINGS"

The Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) warned on Monday that China has usually relied on carbon intensive sources of growth to recover from previous economic shocks – including SARS and the global financial crisis.

Last month, steel production hit its highest daily rate since June 2019, while daily coal and cement production also surpassed last year's average. Air pollution rose for the first time this year.

The NDRC last week announced plans to expand doRead More – Source