Energy experts say that China’s slowing economic growth may mean it won’t be able to keep the environmental promises it made in a deal with the Obama administration.
China pledged to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and expand green energy production to 20 percent of its power supply.
“I think low growth make it more difficult to achieve their target,” Shoichi Itoh with Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
China pledged last month to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and ramp up its use of renewable energy, including using more nuclear power and hydroelectric energy. Republicans criticized the deal since China did not make any firm commitments, but the White House called in an “historic” agreement.
But Itoh and his colleagues at IEEJ say that slowing economic growth in China may be a huge setback to meeting their emissions pledge.
“They want to reduce energy consumption and emissions for their own purposes,” Itoh said. “If Chinese economy slows down, they can’t expect people to pay more for energy. So people might lose their appetite for reducing emissions.”
China’s economic growth has halved in the last few years — in 2007 China’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 14.2 percent, but GDP only grew 7.7 percent in 2013. But even with slower growth, Chinese emissions are about 95 percent higher than the U.S.’s, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
While slowing economic growth will likely reduce energy demand from the Asian giant, it will also likely stall environmental reforms necessary to reduce emissions and modernize China’s power sector, according to a report from IEEJ.
IEEJ experts write that “the economic growth deceleration accompanying social reform stagnation and the investment- or export-oriented economy may lead to wider income gaps, employment opportunity shortages and a delay in solutions to energy and environmental problems.”
Other energy experts, however, have noted that slowing Chinese economic growth will make it easier to meet their emissions goals by 2030.
“Emissions growth has come down recently because the Chinese economy has been weakening,” writes Derek Scissors, a China policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
But even Scissors is somewhat skeptical of China’s willingness to sacrifice more economic growth for the sake of global warming.
“There are, of course, still problems. China is far from rich and understandably still seeks fast economic gains,” Scissors writes. “It is not reasonable to expect China to sacrifice economic growth, if such is achievable, for the sake of a non-binding agreement.”
About 60 to 80 percent of China’s power comes from coal and by 2040 the country could double the amount of coal it uses today, Clara Gillespie with the National Bureau of Asian Research told TheDCNF.
“Energy consumption is going to grow through 2040,” Gillespie said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to reduce carbon dioxide while meeting growing demand.”
China is working on carbon capture and storage technologies, Gillespie noted, and looking to use more natural gas — much of which will be imported from Russia and other countries.
But low economic growth could jeopardize international plans to wean China off of coal. Lower growth not only means slower demand growth, but it will shrink the size of China’s energy markets.
“With low rates of growth in these countries, it will decrease the expected growth of energy consumption of oil and natural gas, especially,” Itoh said. “It will shrink the size of their energy markets.”
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