The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow at the end of October with the aim of accelerating action on the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. What role can UK and Chinese businesses play in support of these targets? A new CBBC webinar takes a closer look
China — as the world’s second-largest economy — will play a crucial role in the negotiations. The UK and Chinese governments have set themselves ambitious targets to reach “net zero” by 2050 and 2060 respectively.
With less than two months to go before the critical climate change conference, COP26 President-Designate (and British MP) Alok Sharma recently completed a series of meetings with Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs of China, Xie Zhenhua, in Tianjin, emphasising the need to take urgent action to keep the global rise in temperature at or below 1.5℃. They discussed President Xi Jinping’s commitment to achieving peak emissions before 2030 and reducing the country’s use of coal, as well as how China can build on its position as the largest investor in renewable energy and the largest domestic market for zero-emission vehicles.
But what concrete steps have both countries taken to achieve this in the run-up to COP26? As an ongoing CBBC webinar series explores, actions taken fall into a number of categories, including urban energy transition and green finance.
The urban energy transition
Climate change is forcing cities and regions around the world to face up to an inevitable energy transition. Nowhere is the need for this more evident than in what might be described as ‘Energy Cities’, whose economic fabric has for decades relied heavily upon growth in conventional thermal energy sources such as coal and oil. They are often among the most carbon-intensive regions of the world, and where the greatest savings and reductions can be made. The UK and China have several regions of this nature, and the ability to facilitate their transition to more sustainable models of economic activity is a priority for both local and central government.
An April 2021 report by global renewable energy community REN21 found that 106 cities in the UK had set renewable energy targets or policies, and many have begun taking concrete measures. For example, in August 2021, Oxford launched its first Zero Emission Zone, which applies a variable daily charge to vehicles within the zone between the hours of 7am-7pm, depending on the emissions the vehicle produces.
In China, 25 cities had renewable energy targets or policies, covering an impressive 38% of the urban population in China. Notable policies include specific targets for hydrogen use in transport and fuel cells in Foshan, and bans on the use of fossil fuels in buildings in Handan and Taiyuan.
The role of tech
Technology is emerging as a key enabler in the path to net zero, with the tech sector playing a critical role both in CO2 emissions and in mitigating the long-term impact of climate change. The internet of things, 5G networks, big data, AI and quantum computing all have a critical role to play in addressing the global climate emergency.
It is not only the algorithms and devices of tech giants that are crucial to achieving net zero, but also the companies themselves. The data centres needed to power cloud storage and apps like Facebook and WeChat consume 1% of global electricity demand, according to the International Energy Agency, accounting for 0.3% of all global CO2 emissions. In January 2021, Tencent announced that it would work towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 in line with the Chinese government, emphasising measures such as using liquid cooling technology to bring power usage effectiveness down to 1.06 (the closer to one, the higher the efficiency) at one of its data centres in Guangdong.
The data centres needed to power cloud storage and apps like Facebook and WeChat consume 1% of global electricity demand, according to the International Energy Agency, accounting for 0.3% of all global CO2 emissions
Electric vehicles and clean transportation
As the world moves towards cleaner transport, the pressure is on for manufacturers to come up with solutions, and this is perhaps most obvious in the automotive market. The challenges that will need to be overcome to meet ambitious government targets are numerous. These are not just limited to how to harness new energy sources affordably and practically, but also include requirements for new materials, adaptation of the supply chain, product life cycle and even new ownership models.
China is well-positioned to meet these challenges. It is already home to nearly 50% of the world’s electric passenger vehicles, driven by subsidies of around RMB 14,400 (£1,600) for buyers (although those subsidies are set to be phased out by 2022). Sales of new energy vehicles from homegrown Chinese brands such as Nio, XPeng and BYD have rebounded quickly following a dip during the pandemic in 2020.
The UK’s finance sector has been well-positioned to grasp the multiple opportunities that China’s dynamic financial services sector has thrown open in recent years, where there has been a surge in activity around models of green finance and its use as an enabler of green growth.
This year saw China become the global leader in the issuance of green bonds as it rolled out funding to support clean and renewable infrastructure projects. In the first three months of 2021, Chinese issuers sold $15.7 billion (£11.3 billion) of bonds, almost four times higher than a year earlier, and exceeding the approximately $15 billion of bonds sold in the US.
The UK financial sector, for its part, has played a world leading role in developing such instruments from their inception, and is well placed to work together with Chinese partners in pursing common goals. Budget 2021 laid out ambitions commitments, including two Green Gilt issuances in 2021 totalling a minimum of £15 billion, which will be used to finance clean transportation, renewable energy, energy efficiency, pollution prevention and control, living and natural resources, and climate change adaptation.
The world is facing the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, and one cannot be solved without addressing the other. Agriculture, forestry, and other land use account for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. They also support global food security and millions of jobs. As such, it’s crucial that countries include nature-based solutions in their climate plans, and for businesses to do the same.
Recent solutions have ranged from the adoption of the latest Chinese technologies in the protection of native species, sustainable cities that incorporate agriculture into their infrastructure, and climate-positive spirits distilled using green hydrogen power.
Targeting Net Zero Webinar Series
CBBC is delighted to present a webinar series in the run-up to COP26, exploring the role that UK and Chinese businesses can play in support of carbon neutrality targets, with a particular focus on multilateral cooperation.
The webinar series is ongoing throughout September and October, with the next session, Adaptation and Resilience: UK-China Tech Collaboration and the Path to Net Zero, taking place on 22 September.