China’s Effort to Limit GHGs

china-five-year-plan-infographicChina produces more carbon dioxide than any other country in the world: 10.357 million metric tons per year. To limit their impact on climate change, China includes environmental protection in their Five Year Plan (FYP). The FYP is the country’s blueprint that outlines the policy framework, priorities, economic, and social development goals for the 2016-2020 period.

In 2016, China released the 13th FYP which includes lofty goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase green manufacturing. Innovation is the crux of this FYP. Innovation builds on improving manufacturing and emphasizing a cleaner, green economy. A State Council executive meeting in 2015 discussed implementing an Internet Plus Circulation program. The program expands broadband connection to more rural areas so there is more efficiency in transporting items, like new agricultural products and equipment. The program will also allow rural populations to access health care. Air pollution is a key target for the FYP. Chapter 38, Section 4, ensures that the concentration of fine particulate matter is reduced by at least 25%. The current status of smog and air pollution affects public health. China is increasing regulations for coal-fired plants while requiring low-emission technologies and eliminating outdated industrial equipment and processes.

The carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets in the FYP contribute to China’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) 2030 target. The 13th FYP even put a first nation-wide total energy cap on all energy sources: it is set at less than the equivalent of five billion tons of coal over the next five years. These goals are reflected in the INDC filed on June 30, 2015. Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, provides that “[e]ach Party shall prepare…nationally determined contributions…with the aim of achieving the objectives…” of reaching a global peak of GHG emissions as soon as possible. During COP24 in December, China may include details about innovation and policy from the 13th FYP into the NDC because it is on track to meet the 2020.

China is fully embracing their 2020 goals by implementing green community projects. On September 28, 2018, Green Climate Fund announced that the board will consider projects, including China’s Green Cities program,targeting Central Asia and Eastern Europe. This project is among 20 other proposals totaling $1.1 billion to be heard during the next board meeting this month. It will be interesting to see how these project proposals will factor into each countries’ NDC during COP24.

The Power of One Word


Photo Source: International Partnership on Mitigation & MRV

In international legal commitments all the power is in the verbs. And in the most recent (and perhaps final) version of the Paris Agreement, the verbs used in Art. 4 on Mitigation strengthen the actions required by developed country Parties.

Article 4.4 is on the differentiated mitigation efforts required by all Parties to the Agreement. The text released this afternoon declares that, “[d]eveloped country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.” Conversely, the requirement for developing country Parties is that they “should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.”

Even after a quick read, the power and effect of the verb “shall” compared to “should” or “are encouraged to” is instantly obvious. The language of “shall” is stronger; we’ve known this since biblical times. The commandment was “thou shalt not kill,” not thou should not kill, or thou is encouraged not to kill. Shall is an obligation, a command. Should is just an expectation.

Under the current Paris Agreement, developed country Parties have a positive obligation to lead on economy-wide GHG emission reductions. On the other hand, developing countries have no GHG emission reduction obligations under Art.4.4. Instead, developing country Parties are expected, or perhaps have a moral duty, to enhance their mitigation efforts. A statement supporting developing countries to voluntarily choose to try and move towards economy-wide GHG emission reductions furthers the expectation that they will enhance their mitigation efforts.

While differentiation between developed and developing Parties may seem intuitive, the “shall” “should” dichotomy is quite new in Art. 4.4. In the draft version distributed two days ago, on December 10, 2015, all the verbs were “should.”

The text read: “Developed country Parties should continue to take the lead. Each Party that has previously communicated absolute economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets should continue to do so, and all Parties should aim to do so in light of different national circumstances and stages of development.”

Photo Source: ThinkProgress

Photo Source: ThinkProgress

This previous version of the text was a conglomeration of expectations, and all Parties were expected to be doing something to mitigate GHG emissions. But, no Parties were actually obligated to perform certain actions. As negotiations have progressed over the past two days it is clear that a hierarchy of actions has developed, and this hierarchy ensures that all Parties know what the Paris Agreement requires of them. Under this hierarchy:

WHO:                                     WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO:

  1. Developed Parties          Must lead on economy-wide GHG emission reduction targets
  2. Developing Parties         Expected to enhance their mitigation efforts
  3. Developing Parties         Economy-wide GHG emission reduction targets encouraged

As the final text is considered by the Parties tonight, it will be important to note whether this hierarchy of mitigation actions is preserved with “shall” and “should” or if we return to a list of “should” expectations as contained in the earlier version of the text.

***UPDATE: During the final meeting of the Comité de Paris the term “shall” was changed back to “should.” Therefore, developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. The power of one word changed this obligation back into an expectation. The COP Presidency explained that the use of “shall” was a technical, unintended error and that the term “should” was meant to be used in the Agreement.