Climate envoy Xie on diplomacy tour in Europe
China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua embarked on a climate diplomacy tour to Europe on 22 May. He took part in the World Economic Forum
in Davos, where he announced that China would “plant 70bn trees in the next 10 years”. (See China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration’s explanation
of how the country plans to do so.) He also held talks with officials from various countries, including the US, EU, Germany, Switzerland, Egypt and Malawi, an official Chinese release
said. According to a separate release
, Xie met with his US counterpart, John Kerry, in Berlin last Thursday. They “exchanged opinions extensively” over the establishment of a China-US climate change working group, it noted. Xie then travelled to Stockholm to attend the MoCA annual meeting, co-chaired by Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment. Huang joined the meeting via video link. Xie called on “all parties” to turn their climate targets into “concrete actions” at MoCA, according to a readout
Xie’s trip to Europe came six months after he attended COP26 in Scotland. Xie and Kerry’s meetings also took place half a year after China and the US – the world’s two largest carbon emitters – released their joint declaration
on climate change cooperation during the Glasgow summit. The joint declaration stated a number of things the two nations “intend to” do, including cooperating to enhance the measurement of methane emissions, convening a meeting in the first half of 2022 and setting up a working group on enhancing climate action.
WHO: According to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), apart from Kerry, Xie also met various “dignitaries” and heads of international organisations. They included: Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission; Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor of Germany; Simonetta Sommaruga, Swiss federal councillor; Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, president of Malawi; Sameh Shoukry, president-designate for COP27; Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); and Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), among others.
At the Safeguarding Our Planet and People
event in Davos on 24 May, Xie and Kerry both expressed hopes for the two sides to cooperate on climate change matters. This was the first time the pair had been seen together in public since COP26. However, they had held nearly 40 meetings – or one for “every eight to nine days” – since early 2021, Xie said at Davos. In their talks in Berlin, Xie and Kerry “reviewed” the two nations’ Glasgow joint declaration and “exchanged opinions extensively” over the establishment of a China-US climate change working group, according to the Chinese release
. The US side has not issued a readout.
MEETING: Li Shuo
– senior global policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia – told Carbon Brief that Xie and Kerry’s meeting in Berlin was not the meeting mandated by the Glasgow joint declaration. “But its purpose was indeed to prepare for the bilateral working group and the methane meeting, including to hash out the modalities of these meetings,” he noted. Byford Tsang
– senior policy advisor at E3G – told Carbon Brief that, given the “muted communication efforts” from both sides after the Berlin meeting, it is “more likely” that the meeting is “about the processes to get to the milestones set in the declaration rather than about the milestones themselves”.
WORKING GROUP: Commenting on why China has issued a release for the Berlin talks but the US has not, Li said “one may argue that the Chinese side is more interested in publicising the meeting, so that they could make the point that the G2 are still collaborating”. He also said that it remained to be seen when and how the China-US bilateral working group would happen and what outcome it might generate. “That’s the immediate next step,” he noted, adding: “I would also pay attention to potential opportunities over the next few weeks for the two countries to interact on the climate issue at the top level.”
METHANE: The US-China Glasgow joint declaration has “put accelerated action on methane” into the spotlight, Tsang noted. “A key benchmark for success of the yet-to-be-established working group would be new measures to rein in methane in both countries, including the launch of an ambitious National Action Plan on methane in China,” he stated. The success of the working group would also be “judged on the scope of the issues” it is set to cover, which could include sub-national cooperation, deforestation and circular economy, Tsang added.
The Global Times
– a Chinese state-run newspaper – said that, according to experts, Xie and Kerry’s meeting at Davos underlined “room for cooperation” on climate change amid “bilateral tensions” between China and the US. But the experts also warned that “the US’s inconsistency in global climate cooperation and tendency to politicise the issue call for vigilance”, the publication wrote. Kerry told Shanghai-based Jiemian News
that his meeting with Xie at Davos had been “very good” and “very constructive” and that they were “working to finish the finishing touches on the working group”. The South China Morning Post
reported that the US “could offer its knowhow
on improving energy efficiency and capturing methane leakage during oil and gas production” to China, but “some technical issues needed to be resolved”. It interviewed Yang Fuqiang, a researcher with Peking University’s Institute of Energy. Independent financial outlet Caixin
reported that “China aims to hit its carbon-reduction goals ahead of schedule”, citing Xie’s speech at Davos.
The Associated Press
reported that the US and China “were close to agreeing on the structure of the group and how decisions would be made”, according to its interview with Kerry. The New York Times
featured Xie’s Davos remarks that “concrete action has been taken” by China, adding that – according to Xie – “nations must now make good on the promises they had already made”. Politico
said that “Beijing’s official delegation” to Davos “was headed by the most apolitical figure imaginable: the veteran climate envoy Xie Zhenhua”. Bloomberg
described Xie as being “among the handful of Chinese officials who were allowed to leave the country’s strict Covid lockdown”. Time
wrote that “environmentalists have raised concerns that reforestation may be used as a fig leaf to obfuscate rising emissions
”, referring to Xie’s 70bn tree-planting pledge. According to Yahoo
, Kerry said that methane is “front and centre” in US-China climate talks.
Reports analyse China’s ETS and coal mine ‘boom’
Two reports released over the past two weeks have assessed two key areas for China’s efforts to tackle climate change: the country’s coal mines and national ETS. The first report
, published by GEM, said that China’s new coal production “surge” in response to power shortages “may have” emitted 2.5m tonnes (Mt) of methane – a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) with an estimated warming potential of around 30 times that of CO2 over a 100-year timescale. The second report
was jointly released by the IEA and the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy of Tsinghua University in Beijing. It found that an “enhanced” national ETS could lead China’s electricity sector towards “an emissions trajectory that is in line with China’s carbon neutrality target”.
GEM’s analysis said that China’s “coal mine boom jeopardises” the country’s “short-term” climate targets. It noted that China’s emissions of 2.5Mt methane happened “within a matter of months” due to its strategy to “shore-up coal supply” to tackle “an acute domestic ‘energy crisis’” late last year. It noted that China’s new coal production “surge” boosted its annual mining capacity by 464Mt, with actual output up by “at least” 270Mt. China produced 4,070Mt of coal in 2021– reported to be a “record high
” for the country – which “almost certainly” contributed to higher methane emissions, GEM said in the briefing.
NEW MINES: 169 new coal mine projects are “already under development” in China, among which 82% are “already under construction”, the briefing said. It added that their combined capacity is expected to reach 559m tonnes per annum (Mtpa). The report also said that China’s “proposed” coal mines could lead to an additional of 6Mt methane emissions each year unless there is “relentless adoption of mitigation practices” for these operations – potentially bumping up global coal mine methane emissions by “more than” 10%.
According to the US-China Glasgow joint declaration, China – which emits 73% of the world’s coal mine methane, according to GEM
– “intends to develop a comprehensive and ambitious National Action Plan on methane” before COP27 this November. Ryan Driskell Tate
, research analyst at GEM and a co-author of the report, told Carbon Brief: “China, like all coal producers, could reduce coal mine methane emissions by implementing the technologies and solutions already available – whether it’s flaring during mining or flooding after it is over.” Tate pointed out that, although China “already has some of these procedures in place at some mines”, to meet the scale of the challenge, Chinese coal producers “need a systematic adoption of these technologies across the sector, so that methane is managed over the entire life of every coal mine”.
The IEA-Tsinghua report found that the CO2 emissions of China’s electricity sector would peak “before 2030” and decrease “by 20%” below 2020 levels by 2035 under the country’s current renewable energy policy in the electricity sector, as well as its existing intensity-based national ETS. (Carbon Brief has analysed
how China’s national ETS works.) It also found that a selection of three ETS design “enhancements” modelled by the report could all “accelerate” the sector’s “alignment” with a carbon neutrality trajectory. Besides, the report said that a “cap-and-trade” ETS could achieve around 800Mt additional CO2 emissions reduction “at no additional cost” by 2035, compared to the current policy mix. Furthermore, it found that maintaining the current ETS system – with intensity-based benchmarks and free allocations – leads to low interaction between the renewable energy policy and the national ETS as they act on different electricity production sources.
ADVICE: The authors also made some policy recommendations based on their study. They advised Chinese policymakers to consider “gradually introducing” allowance auctioning in the current 14th five-year plan period (2021-2025) and “transitioning” to a cap-and-trade system with a “stringent” cap later in this decade. They also advised Chinese policymakers to “swiftly” extend the national ETS to other sectors to expand the “possible options” for emissions reductions and reduce the cost of decarbonisation. Lastly, Chinese policymakers should consider each of the study’s enhancement options against their policy objectives, communicate future regulatory developments “well in advance” and tailor policy coordination accordingly, the authors said.
The report came after Chinese financial outlet Caijing
had reported that the expansion of China’s national ETS would be postponed over “problems” regarding the quality of carbon emissions data. Authors of the IEA-Tsinghua report told Carbon Brief that ensuring “proper” measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of covered entities is “key” to an ETS and “essential to strengthening trust” in the market. They noted that it is a “positive signal that problems are being detected and handled within the first year” of the operation of the national ETS. They said: “Our current expectation is that the renewed emphasis on MRV might mean that the expansion of the ETS to other sectors would happen from the 2023 compliance period.” Bloomberg
reported on Tuesday that China is “now looking at bringing in aluminium, cement, petrochemical and steel companies” into its national ETS from 2024, according to “a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named as the information isn’t public”.