Few can deny that climate change is the single biggest threat that mankind faces in the 21st century. The evidence has been building for decades in the melting of glaciers and polar ice, record heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels, that threaten the lives and economies of billions of people.
The prognosis from the international science community is quite clear－things are bound to get a lot worse unless there is a concerted effort by all nations to reverse global warming.
None of this has been lost on the Communist Party of China, which is developing climate policies with the aim of building a modern, prosperous and green China.
These were the aims outlined by President Xi Jinping in his speech to the 75th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in September last year when he said China aims to reach a carbon emission peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
No country has been so bold or ambitious in the fight against climate change as China.
The country's carbon emissions are roughly a quarter of the global total, and the leadership knows the price of doing nothing－increased water and air pollution, poor quality of life and poor health.
A carbon-neutral China will have a profound impact on the world's climate. According to some estimates, if China achieves carbon neutrality by 2060, it could lower global warming by 0.2 to 0.3 C.
This may not be in line with the Paris Agreement's objective of reducing global warming by 1.5 C by the middle of the century but, as one of the world's biggest carbon emitters, China will make a significant contribution and should give impetus to other countries to follow its example.
The challenge the planet faces cannot be underestimated. A report by insurance giant Swiss Re has described the challenge as "daunting".
The "Insurance Rationale for Carbon Removal Solution" report released on July 8 said global emissions levels need to be "cut in half by 2030, reach net zero by 2050 and stay net-negative throughout the second half of the century".
"This will require up to 10 to 20 billion tonnes of negative emissions per year in and after 2050. The scaling of carbon removal must start now, in parallel to－not instead of－massive emission reduction efforts," the report said.
Christoph Nabholz, chief research officer at the Swiss Re Institute, said in a statement: "Carbon removal will need to evolve into a multi-trillion-dollar industry akin to the value of the oil and gas industry today if we are to hit the climate targets set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement. Serious investment in this nascent industry must start now. Failing to tackle climate change could result in global GDP loss of 18 percent.… No action is not an option."
Paying the price
Achieving carbon neutrality will not be easy and will come at a price, but it is a price China's leadership is willing to pay for a greener country.
China has already positioned itself as a leading manufacturer of green technologies, from electric vehicles and solar panels to wind turbines, and the country is well positioned to meet growing global demand for cleaner technologies.
Reaching carbon neutrality before 2060 is in line with the CPC's centenary goal of building a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.
This is the reason why much of the reform being pushed in recent years aims to prevent and control major risks, alleviate poverty, curb pollution, and deepen supply-side structural reform to push forward sustained and healthy economic and social development.
On climate change, Beijing has adhered to the Paris Agreement, which stipulates individual and independent national commitments. The country has not asked for any trade-off from developed nations and has made its commitment to carbon neutrality unilaterally.
Professor Gao Chao, an environmental science expert at the School of Geographic and Oceanographic Sciences, Nanjing University in Jiangsu province, said it would take the United States more than 50 years to become carbon neutral from its carbon emission peak.
For China the interval between the two set goals will be only 30 years, so China has a much shorter time frame to realize the goal.
"China can draw experience and lessons from developed countries, make use of advanced technologies and put out policies that are suitable to our country," he said.
"More importantly, China has obvious advantages in mobilizing all social resources to control pollution and emissions."
Gao said the key in achieving these goals－emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060－will be to ensure the negative impact is minimal. This meant preventing bringing "any significant or obvious harm to our economic growth during the process".
"We can cut the emissions by reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP and vigorously developing low-carbon and noncarbon technologies such as wind, hydro and nuclear power," he said. "It is necessary for the country to encourage a low-carbon way of life through various legal, policy and economic measures."
Gao said carbon neutrality will reduce the serious consequences of climate change caused by the greenhouse effect and avoid any unforeseen catastrophic shock to "a community with a shared future for mankind".
It can also lead to a "revolutionary change in our country's economic development model, being conducive to realizing sustainable growth in a real sense".
Gao said: "Whether China can realize its goal of carbon neutrality will, to a large extent, determine the success or failure of all mankind's joint efforts to cope with climate change. It will also determine, to a large extent, whether China's image as a responsible country can be truly established in the minds of people of the world."
A report by the United Kingdom's Overseas Development Institute has estimated the investment needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 is a massive $14.725 trillion over the next 30 years, an average of $4.9 trillion per decade and $490 billion per year.
To put this in perspective, the G20's fiscal stimulus in 2008 amounted to $1.1 trillion, with China's contribution at $586 billion.
The ODI report, "Five Expert Views on China's Pledge to Become Carbon Neutral by 2060", released on March 9 said China is set to become the big winner in a global low-carbon transition.
Cao Yue, a senior researcher with the ODI, said China "may have committed to its biggest industrial plan yet" with its pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
"It's no secret that China began to engage with climate policy as a way to address domestic problems, in particular, energy security concerns, and with the explicit goal of gaining an economic edge within the global economy," he said in the report.
Cao said: "This idea has propelled its renewable energy industry into a position of world dominance in the past 15 years. If seen in this light, the recent announcement is just another manifestation of China's industrial policy over the years."
The recent high-quality development model is an iteration of the same idea to command the future global economy through low-carbon, high-tech, and information technologies, he said.
Cao said other countries will need to step up their game if they do not want to lose the race for a green and prosperous future.
Since Xi delivered his address to the UN General Assembly last year, China's road map toward carbon neutrality has gained traction as authorities and industries throughout the country scale up their green efforts.
Peng Kui from the Global Environmental Institute in Beijing said he is confident China can reach its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
The task will not be easy and there will be "huge challenges and uncertainties", said Peng, manager of GEI's ecosystem conservation and community development program.
"With our country's strong political systems, and the Chinese characteristics (of its) economic development path, the goal can be achieved through planned scientific actions."
To realize the goal, the reduction of emissions should always be the main focus. Additionally, scientific and precise long-term strategic planning is required, according to Peng.
"We need to have strong monitoring and evaluation tools for achieving the goal," he said.
"At the same time, it is important to make a transformation toward a circular economy and low-carbon economy and build an overall national ecological protection system as well as ecological security barriers."
Peng also called for improving the diversified governance system of ecological environment and promoting the participation of all people in low-carbon development and environmental protection.
Achieving this goal will have a profound impact on the sustainable growth and ecological environment of China and the world.
"It will become one of the foremost signs that the country has achieved sustainable development, and also serve as a major achievement of China's ecological civilization construction," said Peng.
As the most populous and largest economy in the future, through the realization of carbon neutrality, China can fulfill its obligation to protect the earth's environment, while ensuring sustainable development, and make a great contribution to achieving global biodiversity conservation that facilitates a harmonious coexistence between man and nature, Peng said.
While China's economic rise was largely powered by coal, the country, now among the world's biggest investors in green energy, is increasing the pace of its shift to other renewables, including wind and solar.
China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) which was approved by the National People's Congress, at the two sessions in Beijing earlier this year, is seen by many analysts as a vital phase of the country's ecological conservation drive.
Starting in February, China implemented a set of interim rules for the management of carbon-emissions trading that is designed to drive down the emissions of big power users.
A total of 2,225 power firms are included in the project. More fields, such as the steel and aluminum production sectors, will be included in carbon trading in future.
The campaign for green energy also enabled the public to embrace an eco-friendlier lifestyle, as was shown by the country's booming sales of new energy vehicles.
A report in The Atlantic magazine on May 21 made the point that China's electric vehicle sector "has raced ahead of America's, sparking fears that the United States has fallen dangerously behind its chief rival in a crucial future industry".