Written by Prakriti Panwar, a grade 11 student
In September 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would become carbon neutral (by reducing carbon emission to zero) before 2060.
What does carbon neutral mean?
Very quickly, let’s understand a little about carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases to understand this better.
Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases – these are gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat. The way it works is that these gases let sunlight pass through the atmosphere, but they stop the heat that the sunlight brings from leaving the atmosphere.
So, if the amount of carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, it creates excess greenhouse gases – which then trap more heat. This trapped heat leads to the warming of the earth and to melting ice caps and rising ocean levels, which then cause flooding.
In short – an increase in carbon dioxide is very bad for our environment and climate change.
Carbon neutrality means having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. For example (to explain simply) – if one of your activities (like running an air-conditioner) leads to a certain amount of carbon dioxide creation, then another activity must offset, or reduce the emission (maybe not taking a car to your friends’ house and walking instead) – it’s all about the balance of carbon dioxide you put and reduce in the atmosphere.
Coming back to China…
China’s declaration is being described as a rather ‘bold target,’ especially since China is the largest contributor to the problem.
Apart from reducing carbon emissions, this initiative will also strengthen China’s economy as decarbonization (the process of reducing carbon dioxide) will lead to investment in progressive technology and tools. Factors such as quality of life, mortality rate, etc. will also improve as carbon emissions are a major cause of diseases and deaths.
While less is known about the details of the plan China will adopt, one thing is clear- the country will have to start generating electricity from zero-emission sources (sources of electricity such as air engines, which do not emit any waste) and then transition into using ‘clean power.’ It will also have to adopt CSS, which stands for Carbon Capture and Storage- a process of catching waste carbon dioxide and storing it in a place where it cannot reach the atmosphere
This move is a huge step towards the goal of the 2016 Paris Agreement- limiting Global Warming to 2, or less than 2 degrees celsius. In fact, after hearing about China’s announcement, Japan and Korea too committed to zero GreenHouse Gas(GHG) goals.
Zhang Xiliang (Director of the Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy at Tsinghua University) and MIT’s model will be one of the main components of this goal. As stated by Zhang, the model is ‘the primary one to support government policy.’ According to this plan/model, carbon emissions will be allowed to rise till 2025, then there will be a ‘plateau’ or a flat period till 2035, after rapidly dropping emissions to reach the goal by 2060. However, experts say that this process will be extremely expensive.
According to Frank Jotzo, an environmental economist at Australian National University, a major cost will be the energy storage to combine ‘wind and solar at such a large scale.’ However, battery storage cost has dropped over the last decade, so there is a possibility of costs being cut. There is also a probability of the involvement of nuclear power as a substitute as well, but the authorities are still mulling over it.
In all, China’s promise to become carbon neutral by 2060 has greatly accelerated the implications of the Paris Agreement and has also encouraged other nations to go the ‘zero carbon emissions’ way.
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