Opinion | China Is Writing the Story of the Climate Future

First, it turns out that the country isn’t as big as we thought it was — and it is on track to get quite a bit smaller. The U.N. now projects that China’s population may drop by as much as half by the end of the century, as it also ages steeply — a prediction more or less echoed by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Second, the “Chinese model” is looking less enviable, economically, given the sudden collapse of the country’s real estate and construction industries, a mass refusal to make mortgage payments across the country and such anemic growth figures that, alone in the developed world, the Chinese central banks are lowering their interest rates, amid significant inflation, out of even higher concern about the continuing recession. As recently as a year ago, it was widely predicted that China’s economy would become the world’s biggest as soon as the end of this decade; now some economists are wondering whether it ever will.

And third, the country’s pandemic response, once the envy of the world, has become something more like a global joke, with citywide lockdowns still following from individual new cases and a national vaccination program that has not managed to reach even many of the most vulnerable elderly, with Chinese shots that the government doesn’t seem to trust all that much to protect against death and severe disease.

This doesn’t mean that a “China bubble” is about to pop; that the country is anything other than the world’s most consequential, for climate; or that the unsteady relationship between it and the United States is going to become any less important. But in early September, analysis by Carbon Brief showed that, thanks largely to pandemic shutdowns and a stuttering economy, Chinese emissions fell by almost 8 percent in the second quarter of 2022, compared with the previous year — a larger drop than the country experienced in the depths of pandemic lockdown.

In the midst of the pandemic, which temporarily lowered global emissions about 7 percent, climate watchers noted both that this was about the rate of decarbonization required to meet the most ambitious targets of the Paris agreement and that global shutdown was not a sustainable or appealing way to do it. But while China won’t be following that path indefinitely, it is the path the country is on now — another reminder that the green transition will be both bumpier and more surprising than it looks on a graph from the I.P.C.C. And that no country’s role in the morality play will stay fixed for long.

The fight continues over the permitting “side deal” Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia reached with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York as a condition of their Inflation Reduction Act compromise. The text of the deal hasn’t yet been made public, but a striking number of House Democrats are already committed to voting against it.

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Written by Politixia

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