EF China News

Translating China’s New Climate Targets into Action

President Xi’s recent announcement of China’s ambitious new climate target is already transforming our conversations with grantees and government partners. Whereas, previously we were often the ones pushing long-term thinking and the concept of deep decarbonization, now stakeholders—especially at local levels—are actively asking us, “What is carbon neutrality?” and “What steps should we take toward achieving it?”

But beyond just talking more about carbon neutrality, China already is taking action to begin advancing toward these new targets. Two recent developments are worth flagging:

First, in late October, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment announced that local actions to achieve carbon peaking will be incorporated into China’s official Central Inspection System on Environment—the powerful performance-supervision system by which all officials are evaluated, and on which career advancement depends. This will not only directly enhance local authorities' awareness of climate issues, but also incentivize concrete action toward peaking and neutrality in provinces and cities. China’s Central Inspection System on Environment is the most powerful political measure for environmental management, second only to anti-corruption efforts in importance. With mandatory carbon targets included in this system, carbon performance will be mainstreamed into top-level political KPIs for local authorities—similar to GDP and air-quality improvement targets. (Note: Previously, carbon intensity-reduction targets were considered mandatory, but were not evaluated in the inspection system, and were therefore considered a lower political priority for local authorities.)

For each of the past three years, the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development’s (CCICED) Climate Special Policy Study—co-led by Zou Ji, CEO and President of EF China; Kate Hampton, CEO of Children’s Investment Fund Foundation; and Wang Yi, Vice President of Institutes of Science and Development at the Chinese Academy of Sciences—has submitted 8–10 key recommendations to China’s top leaders. We’re proud to say that one of these recommendations was to incorporate carbon-related indicators into the inspection system. More info can be found in CCICED policy recommendation documents for 2020, 2019, and 2018.

Second, in early November, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) approved and released the CPC’s proposal for the upcoming 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP) (Chinese only). This is a key milestone in the process of developing the 14th FYP, as it introduces the overall priorities, themes, and initiatives prior to the final drafting stage. The CPC proposal highlights “new progress in ecological civilization” as one of six key development goals for China, and outlines a series of green and low carbon-development priorities, including green finance, greening key sectors, green consumption, improving the carbon market, proactively participating in and leading international climate cooperation, and more.

Unfortunately, the proposal fails to call for a carbon cap in the 14th FYP—one of our stretch goals—although we are hopeful that the supporting action plan for peaking will establish quantitative national, sectoral, and regional emissions caps. However, the proposal does call for reducing carbon intensity and supporting provinces and cities to develop carbon peaking plans by 2030. Importantly, it also lays out a vision that, by 2035, carbon emissions will have peaked and begun a steady decline.

These two developments are encouraging signs that China is prepared to translate President Xi’s recent announcements into concrete policy progress.


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