To realize carbon neutrality, world needs an alliance

The carbon-neutral movement will be another revolution in the history of human development. It will fundamentally change the nature of work and lifestyle globally. Carbon neutrality will also help achieve breakthroughs in energy technology, and help replace traditional energy with clean energy.

The year 2021 will be recorded in history as an extraordinary year, a year in which humanity faced unprecedented challenges, extreme economic slowdown and reduced production capacity. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought us to a new juncture.

Instead of returning to the old normal of inequality and fragility, we must move toward a safer and more sustainable path. This is not only a complicated policy test but also an urgent moral test. The actions we take today will determine the development direction for the next few decades, and post-pandemic recovery and climate action must go hand in hand.

While addressing the 75th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020, via video link, President Xi Jinping said China will achieve peak carbon emission before 2030 and realize carbon neutrality before 2060, drawing worldwide praise.

Carbon neutrality is an unprecedented challenge for China, but like its economic transformation over the past more than four decades, the country will achieve that goal. For that, however, as Boston Consulting Group estimates, China needs about 90-100 trillion yuan (US$14.05-15.61 trillion) of investment, which will account for about 2 percent of its cumulative national GDP from 2020 to 2050.

But as Grid Thompson, vice chairman of Asia-Pacific Energy, said: "There is no need to question the high-efficiency current affairs of a powerful country that achieves economic goals, furthermore it is aimed at climate change (China is the only one that can achieve this historic challenge)." Therefore, China, as a climate leader, should work out a blueprint for a carbon-neutral alliance.

First, the proposed alliance should be established under a multilateral cooperation mechanism, and it should set a clear carbon-neutral goal, and move from a regional alliance to a global alliance. According to a Bloomberg study, as the largest consumers and producers of traditional energy (oil, natural gas and coal), China and the Middle East are facing the most severe environmental challenges.

China is one of the biggest users of coal and the Middle East accounts for a large proportion of the global energy supply. The per capita carbon footprint of the Gulf region is the highest in the world, and the temperature in the region is rising faster than the global average.

But since China is also one of the first economies to make a clear and specific commitment to carbon neutrality, it should reach a consensus with the Middle East and North African countries to form a carbon-neutral alliance to intensify the fight against climate change.

Second, the cooperation between China and Middle East and North African countries will be mutually beneficial. This may be best reflected in the shift from traditional energy to clean energy of the Middle East and North African countries seeking energy transition with the help of China.

China has made remarkable progress in green energy and low-carbon development. For example, in photovoltaic power generation, China accounts for 45 percent of the global production.

And as for wind energy, China accounts for 35 percent of the potential global supply. Hence, China's clean energy technology is best suited to meet the needs of the Middle East market, and cooperation in this field will help reduce carbon emissions in the region.

The proposed regional carbon-neutral alliance will also impress upon the world the importance of multilateral cooperation. In total, 195 countries have agreed to the Paris Agreement. But without multilateral cooperation, the goals of reducing carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality can never be achieved. Realizing carbon neutrality is a goal that requires the efforts of humanity as a whole.

UN data show that the 20 wealthiest countries account for 78 percent of global carbon emissions. Which means developed countries need to implement more targeted socioeconomic and climate reforms to reduce their emissions. Green and low-carbon transformation is part of socioeconomic transformation that conforms to the trend of global development.

As such, the carbon-neutral movement will have far-reaching significance just like the abolitionist movement.

Zhang Ziqin is an exchange scholar from Royal Holloway, University of London, to the China Academy of Belt and Road Initiative of Beijing International Studies University.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.