How does China intend to keep its climate promise?

Contrary to expectations, Beijing is setting a fixed growth target of 6 percent. However, there is no longer any talk of any other great promise.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, China's gross domestic product increased again by 6.5 percent, a figure like before the pandemic.

When the annual People’s Congress has been held in Beijing in the past few years, the sky was at times blue as if it were made-to-order. Then, weeks earlier, the government had shut down many power plants in the city and neighboring provinces, the emissions of which, together with the coal stoves in the houses, pollute the air in winter.

On the other hand, when China’s bogus parliament began to sit in session on Friday morning, in which almost 3,000 MPs from all parts of the country handpicked by the Communist Party passed laws in a record two weeks, the measuring stations reported thick smog. When Prime Minister Li Keqiang began reading the government report at 9 a.m. as usual at the beginning of the session after the national anthem had been played, the particulate matter of PM 2.5 in the air, which was particularly hazardous to health, was 185. After he had spoken for an hour , it rose to almost 200 – ten times the limit value in the European Union.

Did the leadership let the power plants run at their most important political meeting of the year so as not to jeopardize the economic recovery from the standstill during the pandemic last spring? That would fit Li’s speech, which, after the self-praise of what the government has achieved, also sets goals for the future.

Factories at full steam

For example, for growth. The world’s second largest economy is expected to grow by “more than 6 percent” this year. The value in itself is not a sensation, but rather low-key. After it had become almost impossible to contract the coronavirus since the middle of last year in the country, to which foreigners are still only allowed to enter in absolutely exceptional cases, the factories have long been running at full steam again.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, China’s gross domestic product increased again by 6.5 percent, a figure like before the pandemic. For the current year, the International Monetary Fund has even predicted growth of 8.1 percent.

But that Li Keqiang even mentioned a growth target is surprising – and gives climate protectors a sense of evil. Many observers had anticipated in advance that, as in the previous year, the government would not set any fixed specifications as to how much the economy should grow in size. After all, many state-owned companies and local governments are already heavily indebted due to the growth-promoting construction of highways, bridges and coal-fired power plants. Li took on the concern that the country’s high debt could one day crush the country in his speech and announced that the national debt would be reduced from 3.6 percent in 2020 to 3.2 percent in the current year.

Smog in Peking

Nonetheless, the growth target of 6 percent is a signal that every state official, every party secretary and every employee of a state corporation understands down to the last corner of the huge country: The economy should be booming. In the year in which it turns 100, the Communist Party does not want to take any chances and risk that, for example, a new virus wave will cause many more people in the country to be unemployed than the official unemployment rate of 5.2 percent (in the cities) suggests.

As the smog in Beijing shows, its rapid growth is poisonous for the climate. What also horrifies climate activists is the number that Li Keqiang did not mention in his report, in contrast to the growth target: President Xi Jinping’s promise to the world that his country will become carbon neutral by 2060 at the latest.