China’s ambitious low-carbon goals should not come at the expense of energy and food security or the “normal life” of ordinary people, president Xi Jinping said, signalling a more cautious approach to climate change as the economy slows.
China, the world’s biggest source of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, has been under pressure to “enhance ambition” and take more drastic action to tackle global warming.
But amid mounting economic challenges, China is worried about the risk to jobs and growth, especially as it prepares to hold a key Communist party conclave that is expected to extend Xi’s rule.
Xi told senior Communist party leaders in a speech published late on Monday that China needed to “overcome the notion of rapid success” and proceed gradually.
“Reducing emissions is not about reducing productivity, and it is not about not emitting at all,” Xi was quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying.
“We must stick to the overall planning and ensure energy security, industrial supply chain security and food security at the same time as cutting carbon emissions,” he said.
Since a national economic work meeting held at the end of last year, Chinese policymakers have repeatedly stressed that the country would “prioritise stability” in 2022.
The approach has already started to feed into policymaking, with Zhang Bo, chief engineer of the ministry of ecology and environment, telling reporters earlier this week that the country would not impose strict water quality targets on local governments, and would instead encourage them to “consolidate” previous gains.
With energy supplies still a major concern after a wave of shortages hit manufacturers last year, Xi also told Party leaders that “the gradual withdrawal of traditional energy must be based on the safe and reliable replacement by new energy.“
China has promised to accelerate the shift to renewables, but will only start to reduce coal consumption – a major source of CO2 – after 2025.
China’s state planning agency also said in December that it will loosen blanket restrictions on energy consumption in order to ensure environmental targets do not erode growth.
In November at the Cop26 summit, China and the US announced a surprise plan to work together on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the crucial next decade.
The world’s two biggest emitters unveiled a joint declaration that would see them cooperate closely on the emissions cuts scientists say are needed in the next 10 years to stay within 1.5C.
China and the US said they would work together on some key specific areas, such as cutting methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and emissions from transport, energy and industry.