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China’s Inevitable Low-Carbon Future

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BEIJING – In mid-January, a group of senior Chinese officials and executives representing 28 influential industry associations gathered at an energy-investment conference in Beijing, where they produced a proclamation titled “Zero-Carbon China.” With a novel coronavirus beginning to spread and claim a rapidly growing number of lives, the event went largely unnoticed. But that doesn’t change China’s low-carbon trajectory.

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    Calls for a zero-carbon future are nothing new. But they are most often associated with places like Brussels or perhaps California – not China, the world’s top energy consumer and emitter of carbon dioxide. When such language does come from China, it is unlikely to be taken seriously, especially by China skeptics. As the world enters a pandemic-induced economic recession, it may sound even less convincing.

    And yet, for many of China’s leaders, the idea of acting more aggressively to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is no longer controversial. On the contrary, they are increasingly recognizing that such action aligns seamlessly with their goal of a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” as articulated by President Xi Jinping in 2012. In fact, achieving the so-called China dream may well make a low-carbon future inevitable.

    Anyone in Beijing needs only to look up – or breathe in – to understand why. China’s rapid economic development has produced infamously high levels of smog in its major cities, and increasingly vocal criticism from residents. During Beijing’s 2013 “airpocalypse,” smog peaked at 35 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit.

    In recent years, however, Xi has made fighting air pollution – or “bringing back the blue skies” – a top priority. Over the........

    © Project Syndicate

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