China Walks Tightrope Between Environmental Protection and Energy Security

China makes further environmental commitments . . .

During a speech given at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) this week in Kunming, China, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an investment of US$232 million to establish a fund supporting biodiversity protection in developing countries. Xi also announced intentions to release implementation plans to reach carbon peak and neutrality in China, but he disappointed environmentalists by not setting more ambitious conservation targets. Nonetheless, the COP15 high-level segment ended on Wednesday on a positive note, with the Chinese environment minister announcing that more than 100 countries adopted the Kunming Declaration, a pledge to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The agreement could be signed when the COP15 resumes in-person in April 2022.

Energy shortages to clash with green transition?

In response to the energy crisis in China, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged to prioritize stable energy supply and energy security at all costs in an emergency meeting of the national energy committee earlier this week. While recent energy shortages and blackouts across China have disrupted industrial activity and livelihoods, the Premier vowed to make every effort to maintain economic growth and ensure that basic needs are met. He added that coal, natural gas, and oil production remain important for China and that emission-reduction goals shouldn’t be rushed. He said that the global energy crunch should be assessed before setting emission-reduction targets.

High expectations for COP26 . . .

China surprised the international community last year by announcing plans for net-zero emissions by 2060 and pledging to stop building coal plants abroad, raising the bar ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). China also promised to announce more aggressive climate goals at COP26 in Glasgow, which kicks off in two weeks. However, it is hard to imagine China can live up to expectations given current circumstances, especially as summit leaders identified an agreement to phase out coal power as a key aim of the summit. Reports suggest that Xi Jinping will not be present at COP26, which would be yet another roadblock to progress in the fight against climate change. Nonetheless, analysts say there is room for optimism, stating that the energy crunch is unlikely to impact China’s capacity to honor or make further long-term climate commitments.