California to help 100 Chinese cities boost low-carbon development

Local authorities make up a key part of China’s new strategy to combat climate change. These cities have committed to ‘peak’ their carbon emissions before 2030.

Smog hangs thick over Shanghai, February 2008. (Suicup/Flickr/cc)

Cities in the world’s most-populous country have a new ally in the fight against climate change: the most-populous state in the United States.

With the help of the World Bank, the government of California will assist Chinese cities on low-carbon development strategies as they help China’s efforts to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change. The World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) announced the partnership 11 November in Marrakech, Morocco, where countries have been meeting to discuss how to implement the Paris Agreement, which went into effect this month.

“This is an exciting new platform that will enable us to build from California’s experience in driving down emissions and to extend it to cities in China and beyond,” said Laura Tuck, the World Bank’s vice president for sustainable development. “We need partnerships like this if we are going to deliver on the ambitions of Paris.”

Under the agreement, California will serve as a technical adviser to roughly 100 Chinese cities with ambitious climate targets. These cities, which form a coalition called the Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities, have all committed to “peak” their carbon emissions before 2030, the date that the Chinese government has committed to as the apex of national emissions.

[See: Between Habitat II and III, China changed everything]

Major cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou are among those taking part in the effort, having set 2020 as their target peak year. Collectively these cities represent commitments of approximately 1.2 gigatons of annual carbon emissions, organizers say — roughly a quarter of China’s total.

“This is a tremendous task,” Xueman Wang, coordinator for the Singapore-based GPSC, told Citiscope. “A lot needs to be done to understand what would be the pathway to peak earlier.”

As a result, these cities are looking across the Pacific to learn from California’s ambitious goal of reducing its emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. “How can California maintain its growth and at the same time reduce its emissions? Chinese cities want to know,” Wang said.

California, which if it were its own country would be the world’s sixth-largest economy, thinks it has some answers. In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed sweeping legislation to enshrine those 2030 targets, building on the California Global Warming Solutions Act, signed by then- governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.

[See: What effect could President Trump have on U. S. cities’ climate action?]

“We want to ensure cities and provinces in China have similar goals and approaches to trying to achieve their emission peak soon,” California Environmental Protection Agency’s Fan Dai told Citiscope. “We want to work hand in hand.”

Incentivizing cities

So, what will be the key priorities of these new initiatives? Both Dai and Wang anticipate that air-quality improvement, emissions-trading schemes and preparing greenhouse-gas inventories will be among the topics that California officials will offer their Chinese counterparts.

Because of China’s governance structure, cities are fundamental to the country’s climate-change strategy. Local leaders are expected to meet national objectives in order to advance politically and curry favor with the Communist Party leadership. Since signing on to the Paris Agreement, Beijing has allocated greenhouse-gas-reduction targets to cities and provinces, and local officials are now highly incentivized to meet those goals.

[See: 2018 conference first to put cities at heart of climate science]

The new initiative will only expand trends already underway. Against a broader backdrop of growing bilateral cooperation on climate change between their national governments, California has been working with Chinese counterparts at national level for some time. A number of Chinese officials have visited the state in recent years.

Now, the hope is that this expanded partnership will see activity trickle down to the local level. “The scale of our cooperation would be brought more broadly into cities and subnationals, instead of focusing on the national level,” Dai said.

Governor Brown has made California a global leader on climate change. He instigated the Under2 MOU, a pledge by cities, states, provinces and regions — what are known as “subnational” entities — to make voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Organizers say the initiative has been endorsed by 165 jurisdictions representing 33 countries.

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