Nicholas Stern: ‘The world cannot go net zero unless China does’

(The Third, 26 Apr 2019) The renowned British economist discusses the importance of investing in the environment and social cohesion.

In 2016, Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, published a paper together with other researchers arguing that China’s coal consumption had peaked around 2014 and that the use of coal and the country’s economic growth had essentially “decoupled”.

But in 2018 coal consumption increased for a second consecutive year, creating doubts about whether hard-won environmental gains will be preserved and if China can deliver on its commitment to peak carbon emissions by 2030.

At the 2019 China Development Forum in Beijing, chinadialogue had the opportunity to talk with Lord Stern on China’s emissions trajectory and the future of sustainable development in China.

chinadialogue (CD): Coal consumption in China rose in 2017 and 2018, reversing a downward trend since 2014. Does this make you rethink the conclusion of your 2016 study?

Nicholas Stern (NS): China’s emissions have been more or less on a plateau since 2015. Last year saw an upward “bump”. The structure of China’s economy has been changing towards more services and high-skilled industries, new technologies in electric power generation, transport, and managing energy and cities.

I certainly hope that this is a plateau with some bumps, rather than a quiet period before another rise. The latter scenario would be very difficult for the world and not good for China. The uptick in 2017 and 2018 is partly because of coal use, to some extent with the Chinese government’s support. But accelerating growth by using coal would be a bad idea. It is much better for China to invest in twenty-first-century than nineteenth-century technologies.

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The Third, 26 Apr 2019: Nicholas Stern: ‘The world cannot go net zero unless China does’