China vows to clean up its act in new five-year plan

Since 1953, the Communist Party of China has overseen the social and economic development of the People’s Republic of China through five-year plans.

When the first five-year plan was unveiled in 1953, China more closely resembled a more Soviet-style command economy. Years of reforms have allowed China to transform into what is termed a socialist market economy, based on the principle of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The Chinese Government’s 19th Central Committee drafted the 14th Five-Year Plan, covering development between the years 2021-25. Front and centre of this new plan is an explicit stated aim of delivering on China’s ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

A superpower in flux

The 14th Five-Year Plan comes as China finds itself at a crossroads. Relations with some of its closest trading partners, including countries such as the US and Australia, are decidedly sour for various reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused China’s economy, the world’s second largest, to shrink for the first time in 44 years.

China is estimated to be responsible for 27 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, the country is setting itself on a path towards achieving peak emissions by 2030. This is to be followed by another significant milestone – carbon neutrality before 2060 at the latest.

By contrast, the UK intends to reach this milestone by 2050, showing how China has decided to give itself some extra breathing space to cut ties with carbon for good.

In a country of 1.3 billion people, carbon neutrality by 2060 might sound like a tall order. China’s inability to wean itself off coal power in actuality has already made its stated aims inconsistent with those laid out in the Paris Agreement. Climate Action Tracker, which is monitoring China’s progress, claims the country would need to phase out all reliance on coal by 2040 to make a difference.

China might just be able to help prevent a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels

In doing so, China might just be able to help prevent a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. However, unless investment in new coal plants abates, this could prove harder to achieve.

Plans for a greener China

In order to bring about a peak in emissions, China’s 14th Five-Year Plan focuses on the potential of hydro and nuclear power. At present, the government plans to cut subsidies to the solar power industry, but this might have to be reversed, to diversify the country’s energy mix.

One of the big pluses that has contributed to China being more likely to achieve its goals ironically is the gradual slowdown in energy-intensive economic growth over the past decade. In the late-2000s, the Chinese economy was at the crest of a boom, growing by 14 per cent in 2007 alone. In the post-COVID-19 pandemic era, economists expect growth to be significantly lower than this.

China’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060 is highly ambitious, and the 2021-25 Five-Year Plan is unfortunately light on specific details about how this can be achieved. What is for certain, however, is that China is taking climate change seriously at long last, and along with other nations, has helped nudge the planet that bit further away from a potentially catastrophic scenario.

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