China’s Current and Future Role in Climate Change

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Spurred by an increasingly industrialized world since the mid-20th century, climate change and global warming have risen to the forefront of international issues that have and will continue to define environmental policy for decades to come. The largest human catalyst of climate change and global warming is the emission of greenhouse gases, with carbon dioxide (CO2) being the most common greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas released through human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other regular activities such as transportation via cars, train, and airplanes. Although carbon dioxide is not the most potent greenhouse gas, the gas is much more abundant and remains in the atmosphere for relatively longer periods of time, allowing it to add to Earth’s greenhouse effect and raise global temperatures (1).

China is currently the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, releasing 11535.20 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2019 alone, more than 30% of the world’s total emissions (2). The nation’s energy infrastructure is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and coal, and these methods of energy production have produced massive amounts of greenhouse gases as toxic waste. These emissions are not only affecting China, but also many regional and distant neighbors. For example, prevailing winds in the atmosphere carry greenhouse gases from China all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the United States, resulting in poorer air quality as a result. Rising global temperatures and subsequent rises in sea level will affect Pacific island nations that contribute next to nothing towards global greenhouse gas emissions. Without action, China’s current actions are not sustainable and will have dire consequences for everyone else without major changes in their emission policies.

Because of China’s heavy influence on global climate change, its government must adopt numerous measures to slow down the negative effects of climate change; the nation plays a crucial role in keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius. The country aims for peak carbon emission by the year 2030 and carbon neutrality by the year 2060 (3). Carbon neutrality refers to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, which means reducing carbon emissions, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, or a combination of both. There are signs that China is moving towards a more environmentally-friendly infrastructure. Its renewable energy sector is growing faster than its fossil fuels and nuclear power sector, which is seen as a pivotal move in human’s efforts to combat climate change (4). China has also implemented several policies indicating its dedication to reversing climate change, with some examples being a national carbon trading scheme and the joining of the Paris Agreement to mitigate climate change. It is crucial to recognize that even after climate change policies are put in place, Earth will not see a reduction in global temperatures for a considerable amount of time due to previous decades’ cumulative amount of greenhouse gases still lingering in the atmosphere.

The future of climate change is in the hands of China. As the world’s largest carbon emitter, it is responsible for the effects of global warming, and the consequences of China’s actions can already be felt today. China’s adoption of multiple policies to mitigate climate change is a start, but it will require much more action on their part to keep this global issue at bay before it’s too late.


More posts by Brian Ma.
China’s Current and Future Role in Climate Change
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