Prof Pan Jiahua on China’s zero-carbon future

COP28, the UN Climate summit, was held from 30 November to 13 December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Carbon Brief’s Anika Patel spoke with Professor Pan Jiahua, vice-chair of the national expert panel on climate change of China, about his ideas for how to move to a zero-carbon future. 

Professor Pan Jiahua is also a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and director of its Research Center for Sustainable Development, as well as director of Beijing University of Technology’s Institute of Eco-Civilization Studies and a member of the China Carbon Neutral Fifty Forum.

China’s national expert committee on climate change is an advisory body under the national leaders group on climate change, energy-saving and emissions reduction.

The national leadership group on climate change was established to strengthen the overall co-ordination of climate change response, response and energy conservation and emission reduction. It is headed by the Premier of the State Council as the group leader with 30 relevant ministries as members.

This interview with Professor Pan Jiahua covers a wide range of topics, including China’s stance on fossil fuels, the concept of an ecological civilisation, the usefulness of a global “loss-and-damage fund”, and prospects for distributed solar and power market reform in China.

It is transcribed in full below.



Carbon Brief: If you don’t mind, I’d like to jump straight in. I read a lot about your work on defining the concept of an ecological civilisation, which is a concept that’s not very well understood outside China. In your previous work, you’ve described it as realising harmony between humans and nature in contrast to industrial civilisation. Could you give an overview of what an ecological civilisation is and how this concept has evolved?

CB: And does this include energy security?

CB: You’ve actually teed up my next question really well. Given these hopes for harmony between different countries and harmony between man and nature, do you see the seeds of harmony at COP28?

CB: So is it a battle between short-term and long-term thinking?

CB: A critic might say, firstly countries are pledging to triple global renewables – so there is still focus on mitigation – but they might also say that countries that are seeing their infrastructure destroyed, for example through conflict, have the opportunity to develop new low-carbon infrastructure.

CB: That’s so true, in my Beijing apartment, we didn’t have solar panels, but we did have EV charging points.

CB: To take China as an example, do you think that there’s more public consciousness around zero-carbon development? EVs makes sense because they were subsidised until recently –

CB: So then, from the consumer’s point of view, are people interested in solar panels on their rooftops, recycling, things like that?

CB: I think the EU and the US now recognise they need to catch up with China’s solar industry, and we see them recognising the benefits of nurturing their “baby” industries –

CB: That’s very valid from a consumer point of view. I think everyone recognises that China is growing its renewable capacity at such a high rate, but can it sustain that indefinitely? Or will renewable energy eventually plateau? And at what point will it plateau?

CB: To clarify, you’re not talking about phasing out unabated fossil fuels, you’re talking about phasing out all fossil fuels? 

CB: You mean that both the idea of unabated and abated fossil fuels are nonsense? 

CB: We’ve seen reports of particularly local governments building more coal capacity, perhaps to boost local economic growth. What do you think it would take – 

CB: I heard someone make the argument that, as China tried to control the impact that the Covid-19 outbreak had on the economy, that coal interest groups may have lost some of their power and ‘new energy’ interest groups may have gained some power. Would you agree?

CB: So what language do you expect to see out of the global stocktake?

CB: Will this be accelerated by expected reforms to the power spot market?

CB: Moving towards a zero-carbon society?

CB: Thank you professor. And, for my last question: do you talk to your friends and family about climate change?

Source: Carbon Brief, 21 Feb 2024.