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China’s greenhouse gas emission targets at risk amid trade war with U.S.

Smoke is seen from a cooling tower of a China Energy ultra-low emission coal-fired power plant during a media tour, in Sanhe, Hebei province, China July 18, 2019.   .
Smoke is seen from a cooling tower of a China Energy ultra-low emission coal-fired power plant during a media tour, in Sanhe, Hebei province, China July 18, 2019. . REUTERS/Shivani Singh/File Photo

China‘s greenhouse gas emission targets are at risk as a result of the trade war with the United States, which has put Beijing’s coal-reliant economy under heavy pressure, a senior climate official said on Friday.

“External elements, such as the Sino-U.S. trade war, have brought negative impacts and increasing uncertainties to the global economy, which has also made it more difficult for China to tackle climate change,” said Li Gao, head of the climate change office at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.

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The world’s biggest producer of climate-warming greenhouse gases has pledged to bring its emissions to a peak by around 2030 as part of the global effort to curb rising temperatures.

It promised at the end of June it would show the “highest possible ambition” when reviewing its climate policies next year, raising hopes it would include even more stringent targets in its 2021-25 five-year plan.

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However, Li, briefing reporters ahead of a United Nations climate summit in New York next month, appeared to pour cold water on the idea that China would be able to significantly accelerate efforts to bring emissions to a peak.

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“Don’t underestimate the determination and confidence of the Chinese government but, at the same time, don’t underestimate the difficulties China is facing,” he said.

“China will not be able to meet the goal many years ahead of schedule and the process never goes easily or smoothly.”

China’s policies are likely to come under scrutiny at the U.N. summit, especially after a summer of record-breaking temperatures across the globe.

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United Nations climate envoy Luis de Alba told Reuters earlier this month that the U.N. had received a “positive response” from China on ending investment in coal, a major source of greenhouse gas and air pollution.

But Li told reporters China was still “heavily reliant” on fossil fuels and it was difficult to make adjustments, especially with the economy slowing.

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“With the economy under downward pressure, the country has to take more measures to guarantee employment and the people’s livelihood,” he said. “Some of those measures may not fit our effort to tackle climate change.”

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Li also said China was still unable to meet a major requirement of the Paris climate agreement to compile a full annual carbon inventory that should be submitted to the United Nations, as the country lacked staff and resources.

China’s last full inventory was for 2014, and measured the country’s total emissions at 12.3 billion tonnes, up more than half in just a decade.

An influential government think tank earlier called on China to impose a 2025 cap on carbon emissions, warning that on its current trajectory, the country’s annual CO2 emissions would rise 30 per cent over the next decade.