The global climate agreement recently reached in Paris establishes a framework for international cooperation on CO2 emission reductions. It’s an historic step, politically. Whether or not countries, like the US and China (which together account for the vast majority of global greenhouse gas emissions), follow through with their pledges is another matter entirely. Much of the outcome will depend on China’s ability to reduce its reliance on coal.
Currently we’re cheered by some good news on that front, as slower economic growth has, over the past year, brought about a sustained reduction in coal-based emissions in China. While perhaps only temporary, it’s still good news. China’s declining coal consumption has, in turn, driven a worldwide downward trend in emissions for 2015.
Of course, many of China’s cities – particularly in the north – continue to choke on a toxic smog that is largely produced by coal. For the first time ever, Beijing issued a red alert last week, shutting down schools, factories, construction sites, and taking half the cars in the city off the roads. That was good news too, for those of us who were wondering whether the ‘red alert’ level would actually ever be used by the government or whether it was just there for show. The smog was no worse than it has been over the past few weeks, so the announcement may have been deliberately tied to the Paris climate talks, to show how seriously the government is taking the issues. But still, good news.