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High-carbon not inevitable for modernization

Author  :  Li Cangshu     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2022-07-21

As a global issue, climate change has brought unprecedented impacts to human society. Since the industrial revolution, the high-carbon growth model—based on fossil energy—has greatly changed the natural environment which human beings highly depend upon for survival. The increasingly frequent occurrence of extreme climate events have blighted human production and life to different degrees. In order to prevent the rising number of hazards caused by interactions between human production and the climate, it is widely accepted as a global consensus that humans need to take the initiative and stick to a path of green development that is in harmony with nature.

Severe challenges faced

The “dual carbon” (carbon peaking and carbon neutrality) goals set by China demonstrates its responsibility as a major country to actively address climate changes. The realization of the goals is, however, determined by the country’s natural environment, and economic and social development.

With a vast territory, the extent to which China is affected by climate changes, especially extreme weather, is higher than the global average. Since China covers regions that are sensitive to climate changes, its land surface temperature grows by 0.24℃ every 10 years on average, and the rate of increase is higher than the concurrent global average.

In addition, extreme weather and climate events such as high temperatures, heat waves, cryogenic freezing, drought, heavy precipitation, flood, typhoon, and smog are becoming more frequent with greater intensity. All these pose severe challenges to China’s food security, ecological environment, major project implementation,, hygiene, health, and other sectors.

“Dual carbon” goals not only concern economic development, but also are highly relevant to maintaining energy security. Currently, fossil energy accounts for a relatively high proportion in China’s energy structure, and oil and natural gas’s self-sufficiency is still not satisfactory. As the largest importer of oil and gas, it is crucial that we optimize the energy structure and accelerate development of non-fossil fuels in order to ensure domestic energy supply.

Unwavering efforts needed

A review of history shows that harmony between man and nature can only be achieved if we pursue green and low-carbon development based on respecting the laws of nature. Currently, more than 50 countries have reached the peak of carbon emissions, most of which are developed countries. It has been proven by practice that high-carbon is not inevitable for realizing modernization. In fact, economic growth and carbon emissions can be decoupled, and carbon peaking is an inflection point for the decoupling. When carbon emissions peak, the economy can still continue to grow. In other words, carbon emissions can no longer increase or even decrease during the process of economic growth henceforward. In a sense, carbon peaking symbolizes the transition from old driving forces to new ones, and signifies the starting point of a brand-new stage of economic development.

To reach carbon peaking and achieve carbon neutrality, unwavering efforts are needed, and the task cannot be completely accomplished in one stroke. Carbon reduction should be not be done at a excessively rapid pace and emission reduction does not mean reducing productivity. Rather, it means fostering green transformation while developing the economy and achieving greater development through such transformation. Therefore, to achieve the “dual carbon” goals, the key is to gradually replace old traditional technology with new green technology for the formation of a new type of green-supply capacity.

As humans are moving from an era of industrial civilization to an era of ecological civilization, and from an era of fossil energy to an era of new energy, the “double carbon” goals are the call of our times. There is indeed a significant challenge and pressure to pursue green low-carbon development. However, as long as we raise the proportion of low-carbon and zero-carbon energy, and utilize advantages in such sectors as photovoltaic power generation, new-energy vehicles, and digital technology, we can seize the opportunity to accomplish a new round of both an energy revolution and an industrial revolution.


Li Cangshu is an associate research fellow from the Center for International Knowledge on Development affiliated with the Development Research Center of the State Council.

Editor: Yu Hui

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