C: Paul Kagame via Flickr under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://bit.ly/3pHH24B

China: Maybe we’ll cut CO2 emissions a bit – by 2060

If ever a story underlined the absolute futility of the coming COP 26 summit, this should really be it:

China plans to cut its reliance on fossil fuels to below 20% by 2060, according to a cabinet document published in state media Sunday.

While the document detailed new measures on how the world’s biggest polluter will decarbonize, the country is not updating its pledge to reduce emissions.

The guidelines come less than a week before world leaders descend on Glasgow, Scotland, for crucial COP26 international climate talks. There, they will be expected to hash out a plan to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over this decade.

This is the largest polluting country in the world, pledging absolutely nothing in terms of emissions reductions, and instead offering an entirely different promise: A promise to reduce the share of its energy produced by fossil fuels.

The problem with that pledge, as the quotes above correctly note, is that it is not a pledge to do anything really. Imagine if you have a pile of salt, and a pile of pepper, in front of you, and they are about equal. And imagine that in order to save the world, you were told that you needed to cut out the salt.

Now imagine that instead of getting rid of any salt, you just added a load of pepper to the pepper pile. Hey presto, you have reduced the amount of salt in front of you to less than 20% of the total. That… does not actually eliminate any salt.

This is what China is pledging to do, in effect, on CO2 emissions. Instead of building new coal plants endlessly, as they do today, they will eventually add many more nuclear, wind, and other non fossil fuel plants. They’ll reduce the share of their energy that comes from fossil fuels, but not the amount of it.

Put simply: There is no version of climate science, anywhere in the world, which thinks that this will avert disaster. If you believe the climate science, then China’s announcement is effectively a death sentence to the world. If it turns out that the world does not, in fact, suffer a catastrophe, then the only possible explanation left is that the climate science was wrong.

Let us all hope, then, that it is.

The problems here, though, are not simply climate related. They are also geostrategic. As China moves into a clear position as the world’s second superpower, the Climate Change issue plays right into its hands. After all, its two largest economic rivals, the USA and the European Union, are hell-bent, politically, on economically hobbling themselves in pursuit of a plan to save the world which China has rendered futile. The three powers have made competing bets.

The USA and EU are banking on climate action delivering cutting edge technologies that will give them a leg up: Perhaps, for example, somebody will eventually develop a hydrogen engine, eliminating the need for oil. Perhaps there are major economic gains to be made from energy efficiency. And so on. These are not bad bets, but they are speculative: None of the potential gains may ever be realised.

China, by contrast, is betting on sheer growth. It reckons that if it continues to grow its economy and raise its people out of poverty, it will emerge as the world’s dominant power, especially as the EU and US hobble their economies with climate action in the medium term. This will in turn allow it to invest and catch up to the US on the military front, as well as the economic.

What we are seeing here is what the Chinese believe is the blueprint for the Chinese century.

All the talking in the world, and all the COP summits in the world, are not going to make Beijing turn down this opportunity. The west sees a Climate Crisis. China sees an unprecedented opportunity for global hegemony.

COP 26, then, is, and has ever been, completely pointless.

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