China Briefing, 9 September 2021: Sharma’s Tianjin trip; Steel production ‘could increase’; ‘Most stringent control’ for ‘dual high’

Welcome to Carbon Brief’s China weekly digest. 
We handpick and explain the most important climate and energy stories from China over the past seven days.

This is an online version of Carbon Brief’s weekly China Briefing email newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

Snapshot

Alok Sharma, president-designate for COP26, was in China this week for his latest round of climate diplomacy. Sharma met with China’s climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, in the city of Tianjin before holding virtual talks with the vice-premier. Sharma landed in China on Sunday – just two days after John Kerry, US president’s climate envoy, finished his Tianjin visit. 

上微信关注《碳简报》

Meanwhile, new analysis showed that China’s crude steel production could increase 4-7% year-on-year in 2021. In January, China’s central government pledged to slash the country’s steel production this year to below 2020 levels. The report predicted that China would “unlikely” hit its steel production target, unless there is a “top-down crackdown”.

Furthermore, “dual-high” projects – a set phrase for projects with “high” energy consumption and “high” emissions – are “bracing for the most stringent control”, a Chinese industry publication reported. The news came after Chinese officials had repeatedly called for clampdowns on such projects to help deliver on the country’s climate pledges.

Key developments

Sharma has ‘constructive discussion’ during China trip

WHAT: Alok Sharma was in Tianjin from Sunday to Tuesday for talks ahead of COP26, which is scheduled to run from 31 October to 12 November in Glasgow. Sharma and Xie had their first face-to-face meeting. The pair’s conversation “went from strength to strength” and their 45-minute one-to-one ended up being a two-hour meeting followed by a second round of conversation, a UK government spokeswoman told a press briefing yesterday. Sharma’s visit came hot on the heels of John Kerry’s trip to China. (Read last week’s China Briefing for more details on Kerry’s talks.)

WHO: Apart from Xie, Sharma met with Huang Runqiu, the minister of ecology and environment, via video link on Monday, said his ministry. One day later, he said via Twitter that he had had a “constructive discussion” during a video conference with Han Zheng, China’s vice-premier. Sharma also had meetings with Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, according to a UK government release.

CHINA COVERAGE: According to Xinhua, the state news agency, Han told Sharma that China and the UK should “play to their respective strengths and enhance dialogue and cooperation” in addressing climate change. In an English report, Xinhua said that Sharma “[hailed] China’s efforts in tackling climate change” to Han. However, Global Times – a tabloid run by People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China – said in an editorial on Monday that “if the UK and the global community seek to achieve some tangible results from the meeting [COP26], they cannot allow Washington to hijack the summit for its ill geopolitical intentions”. In response to the editorial, a COP26 spokesperson told Carbon Brief: “As COP26 president-designate, Alok Sharma holds the important role of independent, neutral broker for the upcoming climate talks being hosted by the UK. He is engaging with all parties constructively as part of this.”

UK COVERAGE: The UK government said that Sharma highlighted to Beijing “recent warnings” from the IPCC “as evidence that all countries needed to pick up the pace and take urgent action over the next decade” to tackle climate change. (Carbon Brief has not found any Chinese reports that mentioned this.) Speaking at the end of his visit, Sharma said that “China’s pledge to tackle climate change as a shared mission for humanity is encouraging”, but noted “the question that remains is how fast they put these into action, along with other major emitters”. He added: “I look forward to more detailed plans being published setting out how China’s targets will be met.” The Evening Standard and Sky News featured more of Sharma’s comments. The Daily Mail reported that China had “rebuffed” Sharma’s “plea for a tougher pledge on global warming”. The Daily Telegraph warned that the COP26 talks “are at risk of ‘failure’ over China’s refusal to slash its emissions”, citing “leaked documents” it had seen. The article did not explain if the documents originated from China or the UK. But it noted that they said “Beijing says its current climate commitments represent its ‘utmost efforts’ and are ‘consistent’ with the Paris Agreement”.

ON XI: President Xi has reportedly received a “personal invitation” to COP26 from UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Asked if Xi will come, the UK government spokeswoman said yesterday that COP26’s Covid-secure efforts “create space that Xi Jinping could come”, adding that “we will find out shortly”.

WHY IT MATTERS: Sharma’s Tianjin meetings came after China and the US had reportedly “failed to reach agreement” during Kerry’s visit. In comparison, the “close collaboration” between China and the UK in the lead up to COP15 and COP26 “has been expected broadly to achieve positive results”, Guo Jiangwen, senior research fellow in the environment and society programme at Chatham House, told Carbon Brief. Guo said: “Sharma’s visit to China prior to these two conferences would surely strengthen the communication in this regard.” She pointed out that climate cooperation between China and Europe “is seen to likely be gradually increasing”. She added: “[T]here are several areas, such as green finance and renewable energy, where China and the UK have been engaged in bilateral cooperation.”

China’s crude steel production ‘could be up 4-7% this year’

WHAT: A new study has found that China’s crude steel production “could be up 4-7% this year” compared to 2020. The finding means that “the country’s ability to meet its government-set target of limiting 2021 steel outputs to 2020 levels is unlikely [unless there is] a top-down crackdown”, according to TransitionZero, a London-based “climate analytics firm” that published the analysis. (China has actually said that it would keep its steel production in 2021 to below 2020 levels. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology made the pledge in January.)

WHAT ELSE: The report said that the projected growth would result in an additional 158m tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) being emitted in China – the equivalent of the annual emissions of the Netherlands. It also noted that China’s crude steel production “may be” 88.01Mt for August, a 1% increase from the July figure. 

HOW: The analysis used satellite imagery to estimate the utilisation rate of steel facilities. Matt Gray, co-chief executive of TransitionZero and author of the report, told Carbon Brief: “While considerable efforts have been made to improve data transparency in the steel sector, steel is a competitive commodity and the industry has been unwilling to provide facility-level production and emissions data on a consistent basis.” Gray called for steel production and emissions data “to be made public as soon as possible”.

WHY IT MATTERS: Gray’s analysis came after Chinese media reported in August that the cuts on crude steel production had “entered the implementation stage”. For example, Hebei province, a major steel-producing region in the north, has said that it plans to reduce 21.7m tonnes of crude steel production – or a 8.8% drop compared to 2020 – for 2021, Caixin reported. Gray said that “while China’s central authorities have made good progress in reducing production in eastern provinces, more needs to be done in central and western provinces to meet their production target”, according to his analysis. He added: “With additional action, China could reduce emissions and show climate leadership in the run up to COP26.”

Other news

‘DUAL HIGH’: “Dual-high” projects are now under “the most comprehensive and thorough control”, reported Energy Observer, an industry magazine supervised by state-owned China Southern Power Grid Corporation. The outlet said that the crackdowns came after a meeting chaired by vice-premier Han Zheng, as well as new instructions from China’s top decision-making body to pursue climate goals in a “coordinated and orderly manner” and “rectify campaign-style ‘carbon reduction’”. Read Carbon Brief’s explainer to understand these instructions. 

CARBON MARKET: Hainan province has said that it is considering setting up an international carbon emissions trading exchange to connect China’s national trading scheme with the global market, according to Reuters. The directive came from the government of the island province in southern China. An official notice from last Wednesday said that the move was part of an “implementation plan” to use financial tools to “deepen the economic opening up” for the province.

EU: Politico reported that as Kerry and Sharma ramped up their efforts on climate talks with China their EU counterpart was “largely missing in action”. The website wrote on Sunday that Frans Timmermans, the EU’s executive vice president and climate commissioner, had not spoken to Chinese climate envoy Xie since June, citing “an EU official”. The source noted that one of the reasons for the lack of communication was that “Brussels is off in August”.

DISASTER: Two components of the Eping hydropower station in the county of Zhuxi in China’s Hubei province was “washed away” by floodwaters while a third part “collapsed and subsided” due to “heavy rainfall and flood discharge”, reported state broadcaster CCTV. The official channel said on Saturday that 5,456 people had been displaced during the “dangerous situation”. China has been struck with a series of extreme weather events this summer. See the China Briefing from 12 August for more information. 

ENERGY TRANSITION: “Low-carbon energy transition will play a decisive role in the long-term improvement of China’s air quality,” said He Kebin, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Such an energy transition is predicted to contribute to 75% of the improvement of China’s PM2.5 readings (a measure of local air pollution) in 2060 under its carbon neutrality goal – or 80% under the 1.5C warming scenario of the Paris Agreement. Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, reported the story.

EMISSION PLAN: The city of Beijing has proposed a “two-step” strategy to help China deliver on its carbon neutrality goal, reported Beijing Youth Daily, a newspaper run by the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Youth League of China. The publication says that the city would reach its emissions peak “ahead of others” and see its emissions “decreasing continuously” before 2035 as the first step. It adds that, as the second step and a “long-term goal”, Beijing aims to be a “near zero-carbon city”. The article cited Ming Dengli, director of the climate change division at Beijing Municipal Bureau of Ecology and Environment.

‘SMART’ SYSTEM: China will conduct a “comprehensive assessment” in sectors including energy, industry, transport and construction to evaluate their digitalisation efforts under the country’s carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals. The statement was made by Xie, Beijing climate envoy. He added that China would “widely promote” the use of “big data” and the internet, plus continue with its “digital low-carbon development” through pilot projects. China Energy News, a newspaper run by People’s Daily, carried Xie’s statement. 

Extra reading

New science

​​Provinces with transitions in industrial structure and energy mix performed best in climate change mitigation in China
Communications Earth & Environment 

A new study has identified the “leading” and “lagging” provinces in emission reduction in China by evaluating related regional performance from 2007 to 2017. The researchers found that achievements in industrial transition and non-fossil fuel development determined the leading provinces, while the regions with over-reliance on energy production industries showed poorer performance. Dr Mi Zhifu, associate professor at the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction of University College London, is lead author of the paper. He told Carbon Brief: “Such a ‘naming and shaming’ process could pinpoint the critical factors in carbon reduction at a provincial level, promote interregional cooperation and mutual learning and help to guide future policy packages toward peak emissions and carbon neutrality.”

Rapid rises in the magnitude and risk of extreme regional heatwave events in China
Weather and Climate Extremes

New research has found that the frequency and the magnitude of regional heatwave events observed from 1960 to 2018 in China have approximately doubled. The authors identified the three most severe regional heatwave events, finding that they occurred in the summers of 2013, 2017 and 2003, respectively. The analysis also suggested that China will experience regional heatwaves that are more severe than the 2013 event “on a regular basis” by 2030 under a very high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). In addition, the paper said that the expected occurrence of future severe regional heatwave events – whose magnitude is similar to or slightly greater than the 2013 event – could be “halved” under the 1.5C warming scenario, compared to 2C.

Please email any feedback or tips to [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *