Interview with the author (Kejun Jiang)

What is important is that there are no losers.

Kejun Jiang, Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 2, IPCC Special Report on 1.5℃

Kainuma: What are the key messages of the 1.5℃ Special Report?

Jiang: The first message is that difference of the impacts between the 2°C and the 1.5°C targets is substantial. That’s why we should aim for 1.5°C. Many people ask me why we should do that. Limiting warming to 2°C may be good enough, but the 1.5°C report says that the 0.5°C matters. The difference is very big.

The second message is that if you want to aim for the 1.5°C target, the challenge is harder. The message from the report is that, by 2050, we should have nearly net zero emissions. As it is already 2018, 2050 is only 32 years away. Now we have substantial emissions, but we need to go down to almost net zero. This requires a very fast change and fast transition in the whole global energy system. This is the challenge that we are facing.

The third message from this report comes from my experience. Before I joined the IPCC group, when people had talked about 1.5°C scenarios, I thought that limiting warming to 1.5°C was impossible. After running the model for China, and also as the report mentions, I realised that the 1.5℃ scenario is still possible. It’s not hopeless; there is still hope. We can do it. I think human beings are clever enough to do a better job, and to move towards a better future. Even though the 1.5°C future is not very good, compared to 2°C, it is a lot better. So this is what we should work towards.

The fourth message is that we should work together. Now, many people in China are asking me what is happening at COP24. I think COP24 is the first step. I believe that there will be some mention of the 1.5°C target. So we must work together.

The good news for us is, as was just mentioned in the emission GAP report, we are still on track towards 1.5°C. We have not yet missed the opportunity, and it means that urgent global collaboration is very important.

Kainuma: Is there anything you couldn’t include in the report, but wanted to say? Please also tell us about the important research topics for AR6.

Jiang: In my view, the SR1.5 is quite a good report. The problem is that we had a very short time to prepare the report. Everybody had to work so hard. We did lots of things, even though published papers were very limited. From an academic point of view, we still have lots of work to do, but fundamentally, the SR1.5 covers almost everything. Some people pointed out that the cost study is not in-depth, not well developed yet, but the report already mentions costs in different ways. But it isn’t enough. We need further research.

One thing we didn’t really consider is how to make sure that there are no ‘losers’. This is about how to design transformations without creating negative impacts for some people. For this, we need to design policies. Anyway, we can do this. For example, for China, if you think about 1.5°C transition pathways, these will have heavy negative consequences for the coal industry. Many people will lose their jobs.

We are thinking about this. For example, we are designing the roadmap when the coal industries go to zero by 2050. That means 3.5 million workers lose their jobs. That’s within 30 years. Every year we are projecting that 200,000 workers will lose their jobs. Now the government is considering to pay 200,000 Chinese yuan (which is around USD30,000) to each worker who loses his or her job. This money is to support his or her life, and to help him or her find a new job within two to four years. The amount is much higher than the average worker’s salary. Based on the cost of living in China, they can survive at least for five years without any problem, even if they do not have jobs. Job training is also included in the plan. What we want to do is try to design a roadmap where no one will lose out. We are designing such a roadmap for the 1.5°C scenario. We call them “no-loser” scenarios.

This is a message we didn’t see from the SR1.5. Maybe in the near future, we should work together on this.

Kainuma: Is the Chinese government thinking about the 1.5℃ target?

Jiang: No. Not yet.

The technologies that are needed will differ depending on where we want to end up. We need to have a clear idea. For example, if we say we will go to net-zero emissions by 2050, new investments must go to the development of new technologies. But if you say that we will keep the NDC for China peaking around 2020, people do not have the incentive to invest in new low-carbon technologies, because, according to our scenario, we can meet the target without innovative technologies.

But if we aim for zero emissions, we have a big market for investment in new technologies. This is, I think, the most important thing. This is a reason why I want to push China to have a very ambitious target. This is not only good in terms of CO2 emissions, but also good for business. Businessmen know where to go. This is a very strong signal. It’s important that the government shows a clear target.

Kainuma: How about leapfrogging in developing countries?

Jiang: The reason why solar photovoltaics (PVs) are prevailing in China is that we are making PVs ourselves. We can make technologies cheaply, like solar PVs today. Many developing countries can leapfrog in this way. For example, in the near future, solar PVs will become cheaper than coal-fired power plants, as shown in Indonesia. I assume that they are to select solar, instead of coal, because solar power is cheaper. Wind power is also cheaper. Batteries are becoming better. In China, not only are personal electric vehicles (EVs) increasing in number, but so too are electric buses and trucks. These developments come mainly from the perspective of tackling air pollution and not necessarily climate change.

Kainuma: How about industry?

Jiang: In China, due to air pollution, we are planning to gather industries that use fossil fuels within a 10 km2 industry zone.

Normally small industries use very small boilers, but if these small industries are in the same area, they might be able to use a big boiler together. For big boilers, which are more energy-efficient, we can install CCS. We also can use technologies with lower emissions of sulfur, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter of up to 2.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter (PM 2.5). We are designing this right now, because we have a strong demand to tackle air pollution. We want to design this for net-zero emissions including GHG emissions, as well as for air pollution emissions.

In China, we are trying to do this for small industries, but for other very big industries, it’s impossible to move to the industrial park. Steel, cement, and chemical industries—they are already big. We ask them to make changes on an individual basis. For example we have recommended that the steel industry use CCS. They are already making some progress. The same goes for the cement industry.
For the other industries, we push for electricity use—100% electricity rather than natural gas and coal. So we are designing our plan in this way.

Kainuma: What do you expect from the Talanoa dialogue?

Jiang: The Talanoa dialogue is a very good opportunity for various stakeholders, including researchers, to sit together. I think that this time at COP24, there are some proposals for 1.5℃. I assume there will be. I don’t know. I will observe.

Kainuma: Are non-governmental actors actively engaged in climate change issues?

Jiang: Non-state actors are important. Now, NGOs have a very important role in China. The government has not yet started thinking of 1.5℃ target. The government becomes aware of new voices, normally from NGOs. They talk a lot. Then the government starts to pay attention. We also work on this advocacy. They do a very good job.

We need to make our voices heard and to raise awareness and consciousness. We need to create publications. I am just preparing a policy paper for this purpose.

Kainuma: The government is currently focused on the NDC. Don’t they have a more ambitious target?

Jiang: I do not know. I think they are nevertheless improving the NDC because we are going beyond the Copenhagen commitment. The Copenhagen commitment is a 40 to 45% reduction in carbon intensity by 2030, compared to 2005. Last year, we already reached 46%. We have already achieved more than Copenhagen. And, as we still have three more years, we have the potential to go for more than a 50% reduction.

The NDC reflects a 60 to 65 % reduction of carbon emissions by 2030. They already achieved 20% above the Copenhagen commitment. If China can do 50%, we still have a possibility to go for 70%. It is already certainly beyond the NDC.

Now we want to appeal to the idea of early peaking—maybe peaking around 2020 or earlier. If we want to achieve the 1.5℃ target, we need to peak now. This is the opportunity to go beyond that. The important thing is that everybody talks about climate change policy. We need to think about what climate change policy is.

If you look at the white paper on climate change policy in China, most of the policies are borrowed from other ministries. Now we need to make climate change policies by ourselves.

We are thinking about climate change. We are carrying out air quality management. We are undergoing an energy revolution.

So far 80 or even 95% of China’s climate change policy comes from other sectors. It’s not considered ‘climate change’ policy. In this way, policies related to CO2 mitigation are in place now. This is because, in China, efforts to reach the air pollution target are very strong. In addition, the energy revolution is here. So on the production side, coal is being reduced, and there has been greater introduction of alternatives such as renewables and nuclear. But most of these trends were not initially intended for climate change mitigation. But if you look at China, I think that the policies we are pursuing right now for energy are perfect. They’re very good. In the future, they will cut back on the policies. For example, subsidies for solar PV and wind energy are diminishing.

Kainuma: Do you have any ideas on how to increase low-carbon businesses?

Jiang: We still have a lot of things.

I think carbon labeling is a very good policy, where CO2 emissions are written on the labels of goods and consumers are asked to make a choice. If consumers really prefer low-carbon goods, they will transform businesses. They will change the industry.

We have just started to put carbon labeling to work.

For example, the government has a list of hotels we can go. If we belong to a government organisation and are going to use a hotel—say, for a symposium—we need to choose a hotel from the government hotel list. Currently hotels are ranked by price and other standards, not by CO2 emissions. Thus, we are calling for one of the key criteria to be CO2 emissions.

We can change businesses. We don’t need to push them. Market forces influence industries and the government. We can do it by carbon labeling.

Kainuma: Great, thank you very much for your time today.