A new analysis finds that India and China are on pace to overachieve their Paris Agreement climate pledges, a welcome sign for global climate action.
This is a remarkable change. For years, China was the bogeyman. Even though the country is, still, far behind the U.S. and Europe in terms of historical emissions, the right wing used the country's growth as an excuse for inaction at home. In fact, China's exemption from the Kyoto Protocol was a key reason the U.S. withdrew from the agreement during the George W. Bush regime.
And there was some justification – it was hard to imagine developing countries cutting emissions any time soon. They had to grow – and felt they had the right to emit as well-off northern countries did for decades.
“Five years ago, the idea of either China or India stopping — or even slowing — coal use was considered an insurmountable hurdle, as coal-fired power plants were thought by many to be necessary to satisfy the energy demands of these countries,” Bill Hare of Climate Analytics said in a press statement.
But, amazingly, both countries are growing and expanding energy usage, while slowing emissions growth far faster than anticipated, according to data from Climate Action Tracker.
“Recent observations show they are now on the way toward overcoming this challenge,” Hare added.
How? Part of it is an historic shift away from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. China has, essentially, shut down the construction of new coal plants and is considering plans to shut down old ones. India, which was widely expected to follow the path of the U.S. and China as a coal-burning giant, is also seeing funding for coal plants dry up.
The reason? One word: Renewables.
“In the last 10 years, the energy market has transformed: The price of renewable energy from wind and solar has dropped drastically,” Yvonne Deng of Ecofys said in a press statement. “Renewables are now cost-competitive and being built at a much faster rate than coal-fired power plants.”
China and India are both coming to a science-based understanding: If they emit like we did, they will face horrific climate impacts. Moreover, going green is now economically feasible and, frankly, beneficial. Connecting off-grid villages to solar panels is far cheaper than expanding coal energy in India, and it brings electricity to more people.
Unfortunately, little science-based policymaking is happening in Washington, D.C. It won't matter, because U.S. emissions are also dropping faster than expected, and states like California are stepping up to take on a huge global leadership role. The coming solar boom in Florida is also poised make a significant dent in our emissions. We're slowly turning the corner and heading toward a global clean-energy economy.
The question is: Will China and India go so fast they'll leave America behind? And can we, together, cut emissions fast enough to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 Celsius, as scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change? For that, China and India must play an even bigger leadership role than ever before. And they already have a head start.
Image credit: Wing via Wikimedia Commons
Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.