China, India not deterred by Trump’s apathy toward climate change

The "dzud" phenomenon in Mongolia is a devastating combination of a severe summer drought and extremely harsh winter. It has been occurring with increased frequency and severity in recent years. (Credit: Asian Development Bank / Flickr)

The next four years of U.S. action – or inaction – against climate change hangs in perilous balance as Donald Trump takes the office of the presidency today. While Trump and his cabinet appointees continue to question the impact of human activity on the climate, carbon giants on the other side of the globe are taking the opportunity to reiterate their dedication – and leadership – in the fight against climate change.

China – by far the largest emitter of carbon in the world – has stepped up its efforts in recent years, even months. The deadly smog that blanketed Beijing and much of the northern region from before Christmas into the New Year has sparked a sense of urgency to control carbon emissions.

Last week, Beijing announced the formation of a new environmental police force, tasked with enforcing pollution regulations against things like “open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, dust from roads,” according to Beijing’s acting mayor, Cai Qi, who spoke with state-run Xinhua.

A far more significant offensive is this week’s announcement that China canceled the construction of 103 coal-fired power plants that would have generated about 120 gigawatts of power. The move brings China one step closer to achieving its goal of no more than 1,100 gigawatts of coal-fired power generation capacity by 2020.

That’s still three times the U.S’s coal-fired generation capacity, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data from 2015. As current plants are only running on about half of capacity, it is also far more than the country needs.

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“The key thing is that yes, China has a long way to go, but in the past few years China has come a very long way,” Lauri Myllyvirta, a researcher for Greenpeace in Beijing, told the New York Times.

At the same time, China continues to ramp up its investment into renewable energy, with an announced $361 billion to be spent through 2020. It’s already the leading producer of wind and solar power and is now home to the world’s largest solar farm as well – though concerns persist that far less clean energy is being distributed than generated.

Trump – who called climate change a “hoax” – has promised to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2  degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To do so would be a major blow to climate change mitigation efforts, with the U.S. being the second-largest carbon emitter in the world. In the face of this massive setback, China’s president Xi Jinping has restated his commitment.

“The Paris Agreement is a milestone in the history of climate governance. We must ensure this endeavor is not derailed,” Xi said to the U.N. on Wednesday, according to a transcript from Xinhua“All parties should work together to implement the Paris Agreement. China will continue to take steps to tackle climate change and fully honor its obligations.”

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But China is not the only carbon giant who seeks to take a leading role in combating climate change, regardless of Trump’s participation. India plans to install 175 gigawatts clean energy by 2022 and has made an aggressive push to do so.

“India doesn’t interfere in any other country’s elections and we respect the fact that America has chosen its leader,” Piyush Goyal, India’s energy minister said this week at a renewable energy summit, according to the Times of India. “However, clean energy is not something that we are working on because somebody else wants us to do it. It’s a matter of faith and the faith of the leadership in India. Nothing on earth is going to stop us from doing that.”

As one of his last final acts as president, Barack Obama sent the U.S.’s second installment payment of $500 million to the U.N. Green Climate Fund, to which Trump has said he will cease payments.

Although Trump’s cabinet picks for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, energy secretary, Rick Perry, and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, all acknowledged the existence of climate change in their Senate confirmation hearings, they also questioned the impact of human activity. Meanwhile, the White House has already replaced its webpage on climate change with an “America First Energy” plan, which asserts Trump’s commitment to coal.

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Joanne Lu

Joanne Lu is a South Carolina-based writer and editor dedicated to global development, poverty alleviation and social justice. After a year in Rwanda, she now covers the Asia-Pacific and economics. Find her on Twitter @joannelu or email joanne@humanosphere.com.