China and India Laser Talk

Question:  Does it matter what we do if China and India keep burning fossil fuels?

Answer:  It matters a lot. China, the U.S., and India together emit half of the world’s greenhouse gases, but the U.S. emits the most per person by far. [1] Prior objections that China and India had not committed to reducing emissions are no longer valid, since both signed the Paris Agreement and are also taking action to address climate change.

In 2014, China launched seven regional carbon trading pilots, [2] and is now transitioning to a nationwide carbon trading system. [3]

India has made aggressive commitments to renewable energy in their power and transportation sectors. [4] In both countries, their initial motivation was largely to curtail severe air pollution, [5] but they also recognize that they are seriously vulnerable to the effects of climate change. [6,7]

This is a big challenge for countries where hundreds of millions don’t yet have electricity at all, which is why their coal sectors still wield much political power. [8] But as of 2018, China had installed over 400 gigawatts of renewable electricity, more than double that in the U.S. [9] China has unquestionably become the world’s leading clean energy investor. [10] Meanwhile, India has made a national commitment to deploy 450 gigawatts of renewable energy across the country by 2030. [11] That’s equal to more than 800 U.S. coal plants! [12]

Some in the U.S. still question whether China and India will follow through on those commitments, but that cannot be an excuse for our own inaction. The U.S. must institute policy reforms to restore our leadership in tackling big problems like climate change.

  1. “Climate Change.” Global Footprint Network (accessed 29 Apr 2018).
  2. Swartz, J. “China’s National Emissions Trading System: Implications for Carbon Markets and Trade.” Global Economic Policy and Institutions. Issue Paper No. 6. International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (Mar 2016).
  3. Baker, J. “All eyes on China as national carbon market plan emerges from haze.” Ethical Corporation (1 Sep 2019).
  4. Jaiswal, A. and S. Kwatra. “India Announces Stronger Climate Action.” NRDC Expert Blog (23 Sep 2019).
  5. “Of the 200 cities with worst air pollution, 90 per cent are in China and India.” South China Morning Post. Agence France-Presse (24 Feb 2020).
  6. Chenyu, L. “Govt Report Details Alarming Effects of Climate Change in China.” Sixth Tone (4 Apr 2019).
  7. Padmanabhan, V., S. Alexander, and P. Srivastava. “The growing threat of climate change in India.” Mint (21 Jul 2019).
  8. Timperley, J. “China leading on world’s clean energy investment, says report.” CarbonBrief (9 Jan 2018).
  9. Roberts, D. “The global transition to clean energy, explained in 12 charts.” Vox (26 Jun 2019).
  10. Luxton, E. “China has become a green energy superpower. These 5 charts show how.” World Economic Forum (25 Jun 2016).
  11. Jaiswal, A. “Transitioning India’s Economy to Clean Energy.” NRDC Expert Blog (5 Nov 2019).
  12. “Existing U.S. Coal Plants.” Global Energy Monitor Wiki (25 Dec 2019).

This page was updated on 02/29/20 23:43 CST.

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