Like all of the 150 or so leaders who spoke, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a very strong speech at the opening of COP21.
He urged a strong agreement and cited major changes in Chinese energy policies. He promised China would build a nationwide carbon emission trading, invest in energy efficiency and alternatives and seek a "better harmony between man and nature." He said China would reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by over 60% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. He promised major reforestation programs and said "we have confidence and resolve to fulfill our commitments."
|Chinese President Xi Jinping 11/30/15|
The Presidents of the United States and China issued a joint statement as the COP21 talks started: "The Presidents recognize that the Paris conference presents a crucial opportunity to enhance action to meet this fundamental climate change challenge." This is a continuation of the cooperation on climate shown by the well-received US-China joint announcement of a year ago (details here).
How real is the China commitment to addressing climate issues and reducing carbon emissions? This is one of the most important questions to those looking at how we can slow down climate change. We know China continues to be a major coal user and their demand for energy is escalating at a very rapid pace.
Greenpeace has a China presence and energy is one of their top issues of concern there. They recently issued a report complaining about the continued permitting of new coal power plants (report here).
But Greenpeace is very upbeat about the future for fossil fuel reductions in China and acknowledge much progress as China shifts direction. Li Shuo of Greenpeace China said earlier this week that since the Copenhagen climate talks of six years ago, "China's wind energy has jumped ten fold and solar energy jumped twenty-eight fold."
|Li Shou, Greenpeace China 12/1/15|
"What you are observing in the country is something you would never expect a few years ago," said Shuo. "I think we are entering a very significant and tremendous energy transformation. Two years ago, you ask anybody in Beijing, 'can you see the coal consumption in the country peak or decline in this decade,' nobody would believe that. Coal consumption in 2014 declined for the first time since 1998 ... You are seeing a decoupling between economic growth and the reliance on fossil fuel. "
Mr. Shuo thinks China is heading towards a decarbonized future. "If you look at renewable energy, China is now the number one wind installation country," he said. "It will become the number one solar installation country by the end of this year. If this is the progress that we make in four or five year time ... we think decarbonization by 2050 is not only something that is possible, it is happening now."
What about India? More on that later.