China and France provided more momentum to UN climate talks on Monday by backing a clause in a Paris climate agreement that would oblige checks on whether signatories are keeping their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
In a joint statement released less than a month before the UN Climate Change Conference is held in Paris, the two countries said progress on emissions cuts should be reviewed every five years to “reinforce mutual confidence and promote efficient implementation”.
The statement also called for an “ambitious and legally binding” deal in the French capital, as French President Francois Hollande visited China to garner support from the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
China’s support for five-year reviews will be critical for major emitters to achieve deep decarbonisation by 2050, targets that are referred to in UN climate talks as ‘long-term goals.’
The joint statement also included undertakings that by 2020 both China and France will publish national strategies to have low-carbon economies in place by mid-century.
“It’s a further sign that China is playing a very active role in a setting the framework,” said Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate programme at the World Resources Institute. The communique underlined China’s increased willingness to submit to checks on emissions cuts based on internationally-agreed standards, Morgan added.
In September, China and the US agreed a “common vision”
for UN climate talks that would include “enhanced transparency to build trust and confidence on the implementation of carbon-cutting measures, including methods of reporting and review.”
The issue of how emissions cuts would be monitored, reported and verified has long been one of the main points of contention at UN climate talks, as China had insisted that any checks should be “non-intrusive, non-punitive and respecting national sovereignty”.
In the past year regular bilateral dialogues with the EU and US appear to have persuaded China that it could sign up to an internationally agreed system, although the small print of such a review mechanism will likely be worked out after a Paris agreement.
Scale of ambition
So far, China has said little about how far it can cut CO2 emissions after reaching a peak estimated between 2025 and 2030.
Bending China’s emissions curve downwards will depend to a large extent on displacing the use of coal in power generation and heavy industry with renewables and natural gas.
But green groups want big emitters such as China to go much further, so that fossil fuels are phased out by mid-century.
“This is no time for champagne. This bilateral statement should be another springboard instead of the last word for the Paris agreement,” said Greenpeace executive director Jean-Francois Julliard. “What the world needs in Paris is a global long term vision of a 100% renewable energy supply for all by mid-century and increased ambition by countries every five years starting from now.”
Lowering China’s output of greenhouse gases will also depend on replacing its huge fleet of cars with electric vehicles, sweeping upgrades to the electricity grid and a successful roll out of energy efficiency measures in homes, offices and factories.
The nation’s 13th Five Year Plan, which is being readied by policymakers, undertakes to deliver policies aimed at reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.
released in September by the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project (DDPP) recommended that China use carbon pricing to provide a strong signal and incentive to both companies and the public to switch away from fossil fuels.
Following the summit meeting with President Xi Jinping, France will continue its diplomatic push, and next week will host a meeting of environment ministers from around 80 countries to discuss a future agreement and the latest draft document released at the end of week-long climate talks last month.
On Nov 9, the UN Environment Programme will show the extent to which national climate plans submitted so far to the UN, also known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions
(INDCs), have gone in putting the world on a path to avoid runaway climate change.
The G20 summit in Turkey on 15-16 November will be the last opportunity before Paris for world leaders from major emitters to discuss climate change. Heads of government will gather again on 30 November for the first day of the Paris summit.