Nuclear fusion, intelligent power grids and more: this is how China wants to become climate neutral

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Surprisingly for many, the Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua announced on November 11, 2021 at the UN climate conference COP26 in Glasgow that his country and the USA had reached a climate protection agreement: “As the two great powers in the world, we have to take responsibility other sides to work together to tackle climate change. ” The US climate envoy John Kerry confirmed the agreement. After all, 40 percent of the world’s CO comes from2Emissions from these two countries alone.

As early as September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping went specifically to the UN General Assembly for the first time Climate future of his country a: “Our goal is to reach the peak of the CO2-Emissions to be achieved by 2030 and CO by 20602– To become neutral. “Even more: He announced that China would no longer build coal-fired power plants abroad. Xi already put environmental and climate issues on the domestic political agenda between 2003 and 2007. At that time, he was still secretary of the Zhejiang Province party committee .

With its pledges, China moved away from its previous accusation of the historical guilt of the rich states. According to this, the first and foremost countries are obliged to reduce greenhouse gases, which have had the largest amount of CO since the beginning of industrialization2 deposited in the atmosphere. The USA, for example, has stored 410 billion tons of CO since pre-industrial times2 in the atmosphere, China with 220 billion tons is only slightly more than half. So the world had a problem even before China appeared on the world economic stage.

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This turnaround was no accident, as did thorough analyzes of Carbonbrief and Nature show.

Since 2008, according to the Webseite “Our World in Data” the Oxford University at the top of the CO2– Issuers from all countries around the world. In 2020, its share was 10.67 billion tons, 30 percent of global CO2Emissions, a little more than twice as high as the US with 4.81 billion tons of CO2.

However, if you look at the per capita emissions, the picture turns. Because for every Chinese there are only about 7.1 tons of CO2 per year, for every American with 16 tons more than twice as much. And this despite the fact that China, as the world’s factory, produces a large part of the consumer goods for the rich world, for which it has to offset its emissions, for example in the production of plastics.

In the 14th five-year plan, which was passed at the People’s Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in early March 2021, the long-term climate goals that Xi announced at the 75th UN General Assembly have now been set in writing.

The plan matters 20 economic and social development goals binding, four of them explicitly refer to the reduction of energy consumption, the reduction of CO2-Emissions, nationwide reforestation and extensive, sustainable energy generation capacity.

Based on the decisions of the People’s Congress, the central government presented a detailed work guide and an action plan for 2030 in October 2021. For the first time, they describe the concrete steps that China is taking to reduce its CO2-Wants to achieve goals.

Important points in this are the strengthening of basic research and research into cutting-edge technologies, which in addition to nuclear fusion also includes the development of intelligent power grids and new materials. The two decrees also contain plans to increase the share of electricity from renewable and nuclear sources from 16 to 80 percent by 2060. Research on CO2Separation and sequestration are to be intensified, and by 2030 electric and hybrid vehicles are expected to make up 40 percent of all vehicles sold.

Overall, China is now ramping up investment in low-carbon energy technologies, from hydrogen fuel cells to batteries. But research on market-based emission control mechanisms will also play a role, such as CO2– Taxes and trading systems. In addition, there are models that help local authorities and industries to set realistic reduction targets.

According to research by Nature, more than ten scientific institutes were founded in China in 2021 alone to conduct research on climate issues.

But within four decades of the more than ten annual gigatons of CO2 Coming to zero means an extent and a speed of change that no other country has yet dared, Nature quotes a statement by the energy system modeler Gang He from Stony Brook University in New York, who has studied China’s energy system in depth.

Last but not least, the population must also be taken along, says He. It is also important to find out which sections of the population the upheaval is affecting the most and how they can be helped to cope.

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

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Part of the big change, however, will also be the change in teaching at universities. Points to this Zhang Xiliang hin, climate modeler and director of the Institute for Energy, Environment and Economics at the Tsinghua University. For example, traditional engineering subjects such as coal boiler technology and combustion engines will have to be eliminated in the future.

But even if China should actually succeed in achieving its extremely ambitious goals, they will not help to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, says Yan Qin, Economist and CO2—Model Analyst at Refinitiv in Oslo, a company that provides data on financial markets.

But China’s sheer size alone means that its commitments have a global impact, says Pep Canadell, Scientist at CSIRO Climate Science Center of the Australian Government in Canberra. “When China moves a bit to the left or right, up or down, the whole world feels it.” Canadell is convinced that China’s goals are not as ambitious as some would like them to be, but at least realistic: “What China should do is sometimes not what China can deliver.”


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