23 Jan 2020   |   News

China urged to hit peak emissions by 2025, five years ahead of target

Leading climate economist warns that two big-money Chinese investment programmes could tip planet into catastrophic global warming

Nicholas Stern. Photo: World Economic Forum / Walter Duerst

One of the world’s leading climate economists, Nicholas Stern, has warned that two giant Chinese investment programmes could tip the world into catastrophic climate change if they are not managed correctly.

It is “crucial” for China, as the source of close to a quarter of global climate-changing greenhouse gases, to reach peak emissions at the end of its 14th five year plan in 2025, rather than in 2030 as currently promised, Stern told delegates at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday.   

“The most important story in the world is the Chinese 14th plan and the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. “China has recognised the urgency of the issue and its own responsibility,” he said. “And most friends of China would take the view that peaking during the 14th plan is perfectly possible. When China sets a target, it does so with far more seriousness than anyone else.”

As evidence, Stern pointed to China’s development of solar and wind power and its pledge to set up a national carbon trading market, but said the country had to end investment in coal.

The separate Belt and Road Initiative, which is building trade and communications links around the world, will help create economies collectively the size of China in the next 20 years, Stern said. Under the belt and road, China provides financing for huge infrastructure projects in countries including Columbia, Kenya and Serbia.

“If the emissions of this ‘second China’ look like current China’s, [staying below] three degrees temperature increase is dead and buried. We’d be heading for a very bad place,” he said.

Countries signed up to the Paris climate accord have agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C of pre-industrialised levels by the middle of the century.

A former World Bank chief economist, Stern was the author of the landmark review of the economics of climate change in 2006, which showed that tackling greenhouse gas emissions sooner would cost less and yield more economic benefits, than waiting for years, or decades.

Going over the Paris agreement’s limit would be dire for the planet, Stern warned.

“The difference between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees centigrade is very big; it means doubling the length of droughts and losing all the coral in the oceans.”

Over three degrees warming, he said, would, “Probably mean billions of people would have to move; those that don’t move will be drawn into conflicts.”

Emissions have to dramatically drop everywhere in the next 10 years. “We are close to the point of no return,” Stern said.

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