How new environmental pledges are striving to battle climate change

By Anastasia Bekker

Elm Staff Writer

With environmental pledges made by President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China and major oil companies, new goals are being set regarding climate change, including emission pledges for major oil and gas companies and a more equitable transition from coal-based to clean energy within the next few decades. 

Despite these efforts, International Energy Agency researchers said that global leaders are still behind where they need to be to prevent a major warming of the global climate. 

According to Vox, as part of the global journalism initiative Covering Climate Now, the abundance of climate-related natural disasters in 2020 is motivating these world leaders to prioritize environmental protection, including President Xi Jinping.

At the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22, President Xi announced that China would be carbon neutral by 2060, meaning that they will have to drastically cut back on emissions, and begin using offsetting or carbon capture energy methods as soon as possible.

China is a member of the Paris Agreement, a joint effort to reduce climate change by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Over the past few years, according to Vox, the country has taken a stronger leadership role towards the issue, and membership in the Paris Agreement signifies a shift to environmental leadership as well.

In the same announcement, President Xi said that China would set more ambitious goals for itself under the Paris Agreement. 

China has already begun to explore renewable resources and is the global leader in solar and wind power. In order to fulfill the pledge of carbon neutrality, China plans to use these two sources to generate 70% of the country’s electricity. The country is also encouraging the shift to electric vehicles and electric, rather than coal-based, manufacturing.

Even with clean energy efforts, China’s oil and steel industries have driven the country to become the world’s largest emitter of carbon. In 2019, China’s carbon output was double that of the United States. 

“China is still in the process of developing its economy, energy consumption will continue to rise, and China’s energy consumption relies heavily on coal,” Li Zheng, the executive vice president of Tsinghua University’s Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, told Vox on Sept. 25. “Achieving carbon neutrality under these circumstances is very difficult.” 

Although President Xi did not offer a detailed plan on how this pledge of carbon neutrality would be reached, the Energy Transitions Commission has found that it is possible for China to be carbon neutral as early as 2050.

“It is technically and economically possible for China to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at a very small economic cost to growth and consumer living standards,” the ETC said in a Nov. 2019 report. “China is well placed to gain technological competitive advantage from the transition to net-zero emissions.”

President Xi’s announcement marked a clear contrast with President Donald Trump’s statement at the General Assembly, made only minutes before Xi’s carbon neutrality pledge, where he defended his decision to leave the Paris Agreement. 

Li Zheng told Vox that the statement “reflects China’s resolution to take international responsibility for addressing climate change.”

In addition to the goal of being an international leader for climate change, the prevention of disasters, like this summer’s flooding of the Yangtze River Basin, is also motivation for new environmental policies in China.

Governments are not the only major players in battling climate change. Major oil companies are facing pressure to change their policies to support the goal of preventing a 1.5-degree Celsius increase in global temperature.

The five major oil companies — Exxon, Chevron, BP, Total, and Shell — have all taken various pledges to combat climate change. BP promised to be carbon neutral by 2050, and Shell has invested in several renewable power companies, and has established its own “New Energies” division. However, researchers from Oil Change International, a nonprofit organization that researches the oil industry’s effect on the environment, found that the current policies of the oil giants are insufficient in preventing the 1.5-degree Celsius increase.

“There are few signs of the large-scale change in capital allocation needed to put the world on a more sustainable path,” the IEA said in their “Oil and Gas Industry in Energy Transitions Report,” published in Jan. Without monetary incentive, the oil companies are reluctant to change their policies.

The need for stronger climate initiatives is becoming more apparent in 2020. The number of hurricanes was enough to burn through the official list of alphabetical names this year alone—all while still two months before the end of the hurricane season.

“Heat waves dry out soil, creating drought. Fires destroy the vegetation holding soil together, causing mudslides. Climate change raises sea levels, triggering coastal flooding as estuaries back up with water,” Emma Marris wrote in The Atlantic on Sept. 22, illustrating the way climate change creates an endless chain of natural disasters. “Fires and floods force people into shelters, spreading the coronavirus.”

With the effects of climate change growing each year, the international community, including governments and oil companies, are facing pressure to adopt stronger policies about environmental action.

Featured Photo caption: As climate change becomes a more prominent issue, global leaders are responding with new policies meant to help prevent further damage on the environment. Photo Courtesy of Ella Ivanescu)

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