China Eyes Integrated Approach for Tackling Climate Change and Air Pollution with Potential for Global Reverberations

by CCAC secretariat - 10 August, 2020
China’s goals for linking climate and clean air through actions across government agencies, industries, and research institutions align closely with those of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

In July, China National Petroleum Corporation, the country’s biggest oil and gas producer, announced it was escalating methane mitigation efforts and slashing emissions by 50 percent between now and 2025— that’s after already reducing methane emissions intensity by 12.3 percent between 2017 and 2019. Given China’s size and global significance, this is a consequential step for reducing the short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP) that is one of the most significant drivers of climate change and another sign of the country’s commitment to tackling climate and clean air together. 

“As the largest developing country, China is facing dual challenges: air pollution and climate change,” said Dong Wenjuan, an Associate Fellow at the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University and a lead author of a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the environment and climate that the Climate and Clean Air Coalition played an important role in producing. “In the past, China’s efforts on SLCP mitigation were dispersed across various ministries and departments. Meanwhile, China has historically managed environmental pollution and climate change separately.”

This is changing, and at a fortuitous time. China is developing its 14th Five-Year Plan which will guide the country from 2021 to 2025. The Five-Year plans use evidence-based research, policy debate, and consensus-building to set out China’s environmental targets and climate actions. 

“There is big potential for change if we move right now, the timing is crucial,” said Jiang Kejun, a senior researcher from Energy Research Institute under China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and a member of the CCAC’s Scientific Advisory Panel. “If we work closely with the CCAC and their partners we can get ideas for how to put everything together not just globally but in each country by combining the efforts of government, industry, business, private sector, and farmers to fund and identify solutions.” 

Kejun is leading a modelling group and working closely with the CCAC on estimating the SLCP emissions under China's 1.5C and 2C pathways moving towards 2100. It is the first time that research focuses on China’s SLCPs emissions in relation to climate change. The outcome of this project will support the design of the 14th Five-Year Plan and help the scientific community and policy makers better understand how China can best target its climate change efforts.

Methane Mitigation through Manure Management

China is partnering with the CCAC to incorporate methane mitigation, particularly through manure management, into this plan. Methane is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet over a 10-15 year timeframe. It is emitted by human activities such as leakage from natural gas systems and the raising of livestock, and by natural sources such as wetlands.

Whether it’s pigs, cattle, chicken, or buffaloes, 90 million households in China rear animals, according to Dong Hongmin at the Institute of Environmental and Sustainable Development in Agriculture at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences who was also the China expert at the CCAC’s recent Science Policy dialogue. The country contains almost half (47.6%) of the world’s pigs and almost a quarter (24.6%) of the world’s poultry. It is estimated that the country has an output of 3,800 million tons of manure. Between manure and enteric fermentation (a digestive process that creates methane), the emissions from these activities make up almost half (45.6%) of the country’s agricultural emissions.

The outcomes of China and CCAC’s collaboration will be significant and will ultimately result in policy and strategy recommendations for the 14th Five-Year Plan and other national agricultural methane mitigation policies. To do this the project will gather exact measurements of methane emissions from manure to develop concrete ways to reduce them. It will also compile a summary of China’s current policies for methane mitigation and highlight the policy gaps and survey other countries’ policies on methane mitigation to produce an analysis of the impact of different policy scenarios. Two workshops will also be organized: one to disseminate results nationally and another for different countries to share their technologies, policy, and institutional experiences. 

Given China’s track record on implementing its Five-Year plans (the country fulfilled all the targets listed in the 12th one), the potential for methane mitigation is big.

This collaboration will help elevate the ambition of China’s Nationally Determined Contributions, particularly when it comes to agriculture,and help the country achieve them. China has set ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions, which is each countries’ commitment to climate change mitigation, including stopping the increase of carbon emissions around 2030 and lowering those emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent from the 2005 levels.


A tradition of SLCP mitigation

This new project continues China’s increasingly strong  work to reduce short-lived climate pollutants. Work that has been supported by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

In 2015, the CCAC funded a workshop in China on heavy-duty vehicle emissions compliance. A key outcome was a recommendation to adopt the China IV emissions standard for heavy-duty vehicles across the country by 2020.

In 2018, the China VI emission standards for new heavy-duty vehicles was launched. The CCAC’s partner, the International Council on Clean Transportation, provided technical support to develop the standard and the CCAC Working Group approved funding to support implementation. The standard matches the Euro VI emission standard by mandating diesel particulate filters and transitions all new heavy duty vehicles to soot-free emission levels. Given China’s size and its growing number of vehicles, the implications of this are huge. This action will avoid 29,000 premature deaths in 2030 and reduce black carbon (or soot) emissions,, by 993,000 metric tons between 2020 to 2050. In fact, thanks to this move two-thirds of all new heavy-duty vehicles globally will be soot-free in 2021, compared with 50% if China took no action. The group responsible for the standards (drawing from government, academia, and nonprofits) received the 2018 Climate and Clean Air Award for Transformative Policy. 

Furthermore, UNEP led the negotiation of the commitment of Chinese company BYD to join the CCAC Soot-Free Buses Industry Partnership. BYD is the largest producer of electric vehicles in the world and UNEP is working with them to introduce electric buses globally.

It’s a great example of how climate and clean air can be folded into development plans, propelling countries into a clean and prosperous future. 

In 2019, UNEP and CCAC worked with Tsinghua University to publish the report “Synergizing action on the environment and climate: good practice in China and around the globe.” This report describes China’s work acting on climate and clean air together and also provides international examples of countries around the world doing the same.

“Many governments increasingly recognize that co-governance is an effective way to build consensus and rally support for low-carbon climate strategies for which immediate benefits are hard to see. But most people can see and feel the benefits of air pollution control, urban infrastructure retrofits and clean energy development,” said Mr. Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Affairs and President of Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development (ICCSD) at the launch of the report during the 2019 CCAC High Level Assembly. “By killing multiple birds with one stone, co-governance of the climate, environment and development is cost effective and achieves greater economic, social, environmental and climate benefits. It works in China, and I am sure it will work in other countries.”

Even further back, Beijing provided an example of the potential effects of concerted action on air pollution.

In 1998, Beijing was one of the world’s most polluted cities, in large part due to the increasing numbers of cars and the widespread burning of low quality coal in both homes and factories. A World Bank report cited air pollution as one reason that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was the country’s leading cause of death.

Over the next two decades, Beijing took aggressive steps on energy infrastructure optimization, coal-fired pollution control, and vehicle emission controls. Nearly 200 coal-fired boilers were decommissioned, and natural gas heaters replaced coal ones in local homes. Like evidence-based air pollution control measures around the world, the efforts worked. By 2013, air pollution levels had dropped dramatically. Beijing’s Clean Air Action Plan 2013-2017 took efforts several steps further, helping to drop fine particulate matter by 35 percent.

“This improvement in air quality didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of an enormous investment of time, resources and political will,” said Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP. “Understanding Beijing’s air pollution story is crucial for any nation, district or municipality that wishes to follow a similar path.”

It’s just another example of the progress that’s possible when action on air pollution and climate change are linked— and when cross-sectoral collaboration on these challenges is encouraged. Furthermore, given how fruitful CCAC and China’s collaboration has already been, it shows how much potential there is for the future.

“CCAC has very good cooperation and network with Chinese scientists on this topic, and has done a lot of work to improve the scientific understanding of co-benefits of environment and climate change in China,” said Dong. “Co-governance on environment and climate change has now become an important policy agenda and popular concept in China.  The CCAC has influenced and provided great scientific support for China’s work on this topic.”