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Reaching China’s Carbon Emissions Peak Before 2030 Could Save Lives

Reaching the goal for China’s carbon emissions peak well before the targeted year of 2030 will result in a very substantial reduction in the number of deaths brought about by PM2.5 particles.

Two years ago, Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China, said that the country would “aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.” The pledge to do so has dramatic benefits not just for the country, but for the rest of the world as well. This is because China has the highest consumption of primary energy among all the countries.

China's carbon emissions peak and carbon neutrality goals
The timeline for China’s carbon emissions peak and carbon neutrality.

In 2020, the country consumed 145.46 exajoules of energy, which is nearly twice as much as the energy consumption of the United States of America. The USA, which comes second to China, consumed 87.79 exajoules of energy. 

At the same time, China emits the largest amount of carbon dioxide globally. In the same year, the country emitted 11,680.42 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. However, the high value of carbon dioxide emitted is somehow expected given that the country has the largest population in the world. If it were to be compared vis-a-vis its population, the value of CO2 emissions per capita in the country is 8.20.

Because of this, efforts to promote the attainment of China’s carbon emissions peak before 2030 and eventual carbon neutrality 30 years afterward will greatly contribute to reaching the climate target. 

In the Paris Agreement of 2015, it was decided that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced. This was done in an effort to limit “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” However, as much as possible, countries should continue “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

Doing so prevents any more consequences of climate change that will surely endanger the lives of people and the rest of the ecosystem. 

What Does Reaching Carbon Emissions Peak Mean?

Carbon emissions peak is defined as “the point in time in which greenhouse gas emissions will shrink in each following year, until it reaches emissions levels we deem to be safe.”

Achieving China’s Carbon Emissions Peak Before 2030 Will Save Lives

Many stakeholders believe that China’s carbon emissions peak could be reached by 2025, which is five years before its target date. But information as to what extent it will really benefit the social and economic aspects of the country has remained limited, until recently.

A study published in the journal “Nature Communications” looked into the impact of hitting China’s carbon emissions peak well in advance of the national target. Specifically, it gathered information on the probable influence on air quality and health in the country should such a situation occur.

It was found that 118,000 deaths due to PM2.5 particles could be prevented by 2030 if China’s carbon emissions peak is achieved before the same year. The number of deaths prevented could increase by around 5 times more in the next 20 years afterward. It is estimated that 614,000 lives could be saved by 2050.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, the overall efforts of China are “highly insufficient” for them to achieve their targets.

On the flip side, millions of lives would be lost if efforts to reduce carbon emissions did not effectively result in the expected reduction of such. There will be around 3.6 million to 3.9 million deaths due to exposure to PM2.5. These estimates increase by around a hundred percent by the time the year 2050 comes around. By then, 6.4 million to 7.5 million lives could be lost.

Another factor that contributes to the risk of death brought about by environmental conditions is the fact that the population in China is ageing at a fast pace. This makes them more vulnerable to the detrimental health effects of carbon emissions since they may not be physically fit and could have preexisting conditions already. 

Reducing CO2 Emissions Will Boost Economic Development

Implementing initiatives to decrease carbon emissions comes at a price. Despite this, the benefits of improved health and air quality that result from these efforts cancel out any monetary investment. The country could earn as much as USD 3,017 billion worth of net benefits by 2050. This amount is not measly since it is equal to 2.77% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) within the same year. Because of this, any investment made in programs and projects to reduce carbon emissions would lead to profitable returns.

The study also says, “our results imply that the path of sustainable, low-carbon social and economic development will bring great environmental and health benefits for China at an affordable cost, especially in the long run.”

In conclusion, the research proponents state that “the study not only provides insight into potential health benefits of an early peak in China, but also suggests that similar benefits may result from more ambitious climate targets in other countries.”

With these findings, the researchers call on the government to create policies that aim to address not just China’s carbon emissions peak, but also the degradation of environmental conditions as a whole. Industries and power sectors should move away from reliance on power sources that emit high volumes of carbon dioxide. At the same time, there should be processes for carbon capture and storage in place. These initiatives should be undertaken with the utmost urgency to prevent any more deaths related to PM2.5, among other reasons.

More than just policies, there should also be enforcement of stricter pollution controls, the development of green infrastructure, and the promotion of a more environmentally friendly lifestyle among citizens. 

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