The Guardian • Issue #2081

COP28 and China’s gift to the world

Tangshanpeng Wind Farm.

Tangshanpeng Wind Farm. Photo: Land Rover Our Planet – (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The United Nations Climate Change Conference/ Conference of the Parties, better known as COP28, has convened, but there is nothing to celebrate. It is a grim time for the planet. Delegates have assembled in Dubai in a world that is closer to the brink than it has ever been. Samantha Burgess, of the Copernicus Climate Change Service reminded the world that 2023 will be the hottest on record and that the “sense of urgency for ambitious climate action going into COP28 has never been higher.”

Despite this, China offers hope by deed as well as word.

Very few countries will bring serious ‘gifts’ to the conference. International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures show that 7.1 per cent of total global GDP is still spent on subsidies to the major emitters. One hundred capitalist concerns produce 70 per cent of all emissions. China is bringing a gift to the conference and to the world in the shape of an astonishing and rapid reduction in its carbon emissions.

It has engaged in a massive greening of the country. To give one example, it has invested $42 billion in Green Hydrogen and there are currently 57 Green Hydrogen projects up and running. A concerted effort has been waged to ‘green’ 700,000 square kilometres of land in 2022. This is almost the size of New South Wales. That is only the tip of the iceberg.

The world has become aware of the strength of China’s solar industry. Solar exports grew by 64 per cent in 2022, despite trade war conditions. China now accounts for 80 per cent of the total global solar market.

The Gobi, Ordos, and Tengger deserts in China are now home to a network of clean energy bases. Millions of solar panels are used in conjunction with ‘wind parks,’ and are powering cities and industries across China.

China has announced that it will add 210 GW of solar capacity in the next year. This is more than the entire output of US solar industries to date. By 2025 the total Chinese solar output will reach 1000 GW.

The growth in battery capacity and production is even more stunning.

It is true that China is opening new coal stations but these are, as Chinese coal experts describe, designed to be buffers to the growing renewables and are intended to be predominantly idle. It is estimated that coal usage will significantly fall and that increasingly the coal that is burnt will come with carbon capture. There is already a project underway that will use CO2 to make carbon nanotubes that will be used to boost lithium batteries in electric vehicles.

By 2025, 50 per cent of all car sales in China will be EVs. More than half of all EVs in the world are now on Chinese roads. Currently China accounts for 35 per cent of global EV exports.

China’s economic rise has been a consistent feature for decades. Many Western commentators have made the claim that this has been at a cost to the environment. It is a fact that the country is a major emitter of carbon. It is equally true, although barely admitted, and then only grudgingly, that it is doing so much to solve the crisis that is facing the world.

The fact is that China is now on track to meet its 2030 emissions target seven years early. It had declared that it would be carbon neutral by 2060. This date is also being significantly revised. It is now accepted that the country will achieve its target much earlier and possibly before Europe, and the USA, which is a remarkable achievement.

The question that needs to be considered is just how such a dramatic turnaround could be possible, given China’s poor starting point. To achieve real change is an extremely costly business.

It has been estimated that China would need to invest between $14-17 trillion to achieve its 2060 target, and yet it is set to become carbon neutral a decade early. The investments speak for themselves. In 2022 the Chinese government spent $546 billion on sorting out the problem. The European Union committed $180 billion, and the USA, the most powerful economy on earth, spent $141 billion. Whether the EU and the USA can continue to spend even these amounts, given the global economic crisis is debatable. It is less an issue of debate with China. Why?

For China, it is not a matter of balancing economic gain against climate action. China, despite the problems of a threatened global recession, is growing its economy and developing a ‘green GDP.’ The colossal spending on the environment is seen as an investment and it is already proving to be a good investment.

The success is also a clear indication, perhaps the clearest indication that can be shown, of China’s socialist transformation.

The beauty of a socialist government is its capacity to make long term plans and to integrate its efforts with fewer contradictions than are so evident within the anarchy of free-market capitalism.

Energy conservation and emission reduction are not separate from economic development, but have been integrated into China’s economic development agenda. The state has been moving away from polluting, energy-intensive industries to high-tech industries that will provide the base for sustainable economic growth. Again, it is not a choice between this or that; between one or the other. A green economy can still be a growth economy. By the same token, a growth economy can be socialist.

China’s path to a fully developed socialist economy is very much on track. It has set a goal of achieving ‘socialist modernisation’ by 2035. This will mean, in part, doubling the per capita GDP to $20,000, which requires an annual GDP growth of 3.5 per cent. This is being achieved and explains some of the anguish on the part of bourgeois economists who read the runes in vain for a failing Chinese economy. The Chinese have also set a ‘second centenary goal’ of achieving a powerful, fully developed socialist country, by 2049, the anniversary of the coming to power of the CCP in 1949.

COP28 is being held against a backdrop of climate destruction. It is a destruction that is the product of a rapacious and anarchic capitalist world order. The future for the planet looks bleak. China has offered hope, but even so, the planet will continue to warm. The world needs many Chinas if it is to survive. China’s gift to COP28 is real and lasting.

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