When President George W. Bush pulled the United States from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, other countries saw it as an opportunity to lessen their commitment. Last Thursday, President Trump made a public announcement that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement due to financial and economic burdens that the Agreement imposes on the United States. Based on statistics calculated by the National Economic Research Associates Economic Consulting, Trump said that the Accord would cost the United States 2.7 million jobs by 2025 and withhold trillions of dollars from the U.S. economy. Trump would start talks to renegotiate the Accord for better conditions that will not hurt American economic growth.
In response, statements of commitment to the Paris Agreement, most notably from China, indicate that the international community will continue setting goals to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. Chinese premier Li Keqiang joined German chancellor Angela Merkel in endorsing the Paris Agreement.
China has already begun to crack down on businesses violating emissions laws. In fact, China’s ministry of environment protection punished 5000 businesses in the first three months of 2017. China’s National Energy Administration has set out a plan to spend $360 billion by 2020 on renewable energy including solar and wind.
However, China’s commitment to the Paris Accord is questionable. China has made similar pledges to the Obama Administration in 2014, but then continued to undermine the U.S. at United Nations climate talks. For example, it used its climate pledge as leverage to get more international aid from countries like the U.S. to help developing countries combat global warming.
It is also possible that China’s underlying motivation to be a party to the Paris Agreement is due to its recently declining economic growth rate. China closed coal mines and canceled power plant projects in order to cut excess capacity in electricity markets. These actions are driven by slower economic growth, not concern over the climate.
China is still dependent on coal; coal is the dominant energy-producing fuel in China being 62 percent of the total energy consumption in 2016. China’s temporary ban on coal shipments from North Korea in December 2016 ended up increasing its imports of coal. Imports were at an increased of 13 percent from the December 2015 with a record-breaking 385.6 billion kWh.
Although China announced in January that it was closing 100 coal-fueled power plants, it is planning on building coal-fueled power plants abroad. China is planning on investing billions over the next 15 years in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a group of infrastructure projects throughout Pakistan, which includes almost a dozen coal power plants.
Will China keep its commitment to the Paris Agreement? That depends on China’s economic situation.
China’s declining economic growth has caused it to turn away from industrial manufacturing and towards services, notably the clean energy industry. This week, China completed the world’s largest floating solar farm that sits on top of a previously flooded coal-mining town. China is betting on solar to change the course of its current economic path. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, the larger part of CPEC, estimates $900 billion worth of investments on infrastructure in the developing world, some of which will be renewable energy, but also coal.
China has always been economically driven. Currently, it is struggling to sustain its economic growth rate despite being one of the biggest economies in the world. As a result, China has turned to a new economic sector, renewable energy, to induce economic activity. Despite optimistic praise regarding China’s surprisingly selfless support for the Accord, China’s renewed commitment to the Paris Agreement extends from China’s personal agenda, manipulating world politics in its favor.