China’s efforts to curb climate change effects - GulfToday

China’s efforts to curb climate change effects


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At a gleaming new metro station on the edge of Shenzhen, the local government is promoting “carbon coins” to commuters to earn and trade for shopping vouchers and travel cards in a push to get households to join China’s fight against climate change.

The southeastern city’s “Carbon Road for Everyone” scheme, which rewards people for logging their use of public transport, is one of dozens around China encouraging citizens to ditch cars, plant trees and cut energy use.

The so-called “carbon inclusion” programmes are part of the ruling Communist Party’s campaign to mobilise the whole of society, not just industry, to transform the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter into a carbon-neutral country by 2060.

While the country’s emissions reduction task is massive, potential cuts by individuals could be huge. A 2021 study by the China Academy of Sciences said households contribute more than half of China’s total emissions of over 10 billion metric tonnes per year.

Eventually, China wants the schemes to be integrated into national emissions trading and generate credits that can offset emissions by industrial polluters, government plans show, according to Reuters.

China’s carbon inclusion ambitions have been in gestation since 2015, when the southeastern province of Guangdong published rules on how to convert low-carbon activity into credits.

Since then, dozens of schemes have emerged across the country, accessing personal data like step counts, the use of transport, and the purchase of efficient or environmentally friendly products to generate carbon coins.

Banks have also been testing “personal carbon account” systems. The People’s Bank of China set up a pilot “carbon to gold loan” scheme in the city of Quzhou, allowing customers to earn carbon points that could improve credit ratings.

Other countries have toyed with the idea of personal carbon trading, with pilot schemes set up in Finland and Australia’s Norfolk Island. The British environment ministry also commissioned a study into the possibility in 2006 but concluded it was not yet politically or economically feasible.

Singapore is currently running a scheme that rewards efficient electricity users with “leaf” tokens that can be exchanged for shopping vouchers.

A major challenge is how to commodify carbon dioxide emissions reductions from a wide range of human behaviour, including the way people go to work, heat their household or put out the trash.

Scholars also say it is unclear whether the schemes generate new cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or merely record those that happen anyway.

Shanghai said in regulations that came into effect this month its schemes would eventually be “fully connected” to the local carbon market, with enterprises allowed to apply to use household carbon cuts to meet targets, the Reuters report adds.

Guangdong also allows enterprises to meet 10% of carbon reduction obligations through carbon inclusion credits.

China is still a long way from fulfilling such emissions trading ambitions. Most users remain passive participants: one Beijing-based scheme claims more than 30 million users, but only 1.4% are active, according to research published this year.

And there are worries the carbon inclusion schemes could let industrial polluters off the hook by shifting the burden of emission cuts to households.

While tens of millions of people have already signed up to schemes around the country, some experts fear it will give the state more powers to interfere with people’s lives and punish those who fail to make the right low-carbon choices.

Critics point to China’s handling of environmental problems with controversial measures such as shutting thousands of businesses to cut pollution, relocating homes to make way for national parks and banning poor households from using coal for heating.

China climate official Su Wei told local media the green transformation of China would “inevitably involve profound changes in people’s daily habits and consumption patterns”, but he said carbon inclusion schemes would remain voluntary.

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