Ever since the US announced its withdrawal from the Paris agreement, China and India have been hailed for firmly recommitting to the global emissions pact. The praise is fair: It’s good that two of the world’s three biggest greenhouse-gas emitters have renewed their promise to act. But if they really hope to lead on climate, they’ll have to be more ambitious.
Both countries were climate laggards until recently, prone to blaming the West for rising concentrations of greenhouse gases. Now they’re genuinely trying to cut their emissions. Earlier this year, China pledged to invest more than $360 billion in green energy projects through 2020 and it has canceled plans to build more than 100 new coal-fired power plants. India says that renewables will account for more than half of its installed electricity capacity by 2027.
These and other investments could reduce global carbon emissions by as much as 2 billion to 3 billion tons below recent projections -- more than making up for the US withdrawal.
Yet slippage is all too possible. Prices for solar power in India may rise from recent record lows, and coal might get cheaper. China still has many more coal projects in the works than it needs and it’s paying for others abroad.
Also, in the post-Paris glow of praise, they may be tempted to relax. On present trends, India could meet its none-too-demanding limits for carbon emissions without doing much at all. China may already have reached its target of seeing emissions peak before 2030.
Both ought to try harder. They should set more demanding targets, putting pressure on others to do the same. They should look beyond renewables. Climate aside, India would reap huge gains from stricter energy-efficiency standards in industry, construction and transportation. China should renew its fading efforts to cut overcapacity in dirty sectors such as steel and coal.
Investment in better power grids is essential. In some western Chinese provinces, roughly 40 percent of wind power is wasted because it can’t be sent where it’s needed. India’s debt-ridden utilities will need government help for this; relief from political pressure to set electricity rates too low also wouldn’t hurt. Allowing inter-state trading of electricity would let Indian solar and wind farms sell their power more widely.
It isn’t all down to China and India. Japan and Europe also need to do more. And US cities, states and businesses have pledged to deliver on the promises President Donald Trump has abandoned. But Asia’s giants, if they choose, can lead the way.