The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has just announced that his country is committing to a net-zero emissions status by 2060. I think it would be the understatement of the week to say that this is a big deal. China is one of the worlds most polluting nations and committing to a net-zero status will have effects on global energy trade, steel production, transport, and construction. This commitment is a big win for the planet as a whole, but who are the winners and losers between now and 2060?
A notable loser with regard to international trade is Australia, who provided over half of China’s $19 billion coal import (although China just today announced that they will be halting the purchase of Australian coal). China is predicted to reduce its production of iron, another carbon heavy process. This would have a huge effect on Australia, who sold $65 billion of iron or to China in 2018-2019. Other possible losers are gasoline car manufacturers and natural gas producers.
Although a reduction in carbon is undeniably a good thing, this change will probably mean more batteries produced. As China has a sizable presence in the African mining industry, and the African mining belt has resources like vanadium and cobalt (so called battery metals), it would be expected that the materials for these new batteries would come from Africa. While this may mean more jobs and more investment in infrastructure, it may also mean more pollution and more destruction of natural resources. Overall, the African mining belt may lose out on this change.
Finally, construction will have to change. For the last 20 years China has been on an unstoppable building spree, building 10 of the world’s 20 tallest buildings. An article from 2014 explains how China used more concrete for construction in 2011-2013 than the US did in 1901-2000. A Guardian article calls China “the world’s concrete superpower“. Why does this matter? Concrete is responsible for up to 8% of the world’s CO2. For China to become carbon neutral, they will have to revolutionise how they build, or reduce building, or both.
In conclusion, this is an enormous change with a global mess of implications, both positive and negative. Technology developments will have a huge impact on the feasibility of this commitment. Despite how positive this commitment is, there is still a little voice at the back of my head saying that this is just ESG applied to nations to make them a more attractive trade partner, a marketing effort to try and distract from the concentration camps that they are using to “re-educate” Uighurs.