Norwegian Professor concerned about how the conflict between China and the US can ruin climate goals


Norwegian Professor Øystein Tunsjø at the Norwegian Defense College is worried about how the growing great power rivalry between China and the United States could ruin the climate goals.

In a recent interview with local media NRK, Professor Tunsjø says that China and the US have the largest emissions of greenhouse gases in the world today and a conflict between them challenges the climate goals. 

“The relationship between the US and China has in recent years become tenser and tenser, more and more conflict-filled in all areas. Economically, technologically and militarily. But also on values, human rights issues. So it is an increasing superpower rivalry we see in the world today,” Øystein Tunsjø says. “So when they are in conflict with each other, it becomes difficult to solve the climate challenge,” the Professor notes. 

While climate emissions have declined in the United States, the EU, and Norway, they are on the rise in China, which now accounts for almost a third of all climate emissions in the world. As much as 14,400 million tonnes of emissions from China in 2020. In comparison, emissions from Norway were 50 million tonnes in 2020.

Jarand Rystad, head of one of the world’s largest energy analysis companies, Rystad Energy says that although China is now investing heavily in sun and wind, which is positive, the country still builds many coal power plants.

“China is now investing extremely heavily in solar and wind. They have already developed most of the hydropower. And this could represent a huge opportunity for China to get away from the curse coal is for them,” he says. But the country has over 1000 power plants with over 3000 boilers and they are now building 300 such new coal-fired boilers in China, he says. 

Professor Espen Moe at the Department of Sociology and Political Science at NTNU also does not believe that China will reduce coal power production. “The interests in the coal industry are too strong, especially in the large coal provinces. It has even been speculated quite strongly that the coal industry will try to install a maximum until 2030. In this way, they will have the highest possible peak before they will start to step down,” he explains.

This is an important reason why China threatened to torpedo the negotiations during the run-up to the UN climate conference in Glasgow this autumn. China refused to sign the final document if the requirement to “phase out” the use of coal was not toned down. Together with India, they got their wish, and it now says that coal should be “phased down” – not “out”, NRK writes. 

Energy security ahead of climate considerations

As the conflict between China and the US continues, the threat to the climate remains. Professor Tunsjø believes that China’s next goal is to take over control of Taiwan and if that happens the US will support Taiwan militarily to prevent it. China is however worried that the US will be able to block the coast during a conflict which would make it difficult for China to import oil, coal, and gas as the country only has 26 percent of the oil they need. The rest they have to import.

And the fear of a conflict between the US and China will have major consequences for the climate, says head of Rystad Energy, Jarand Rystad. “The Chinese are extremely concerned about energy security. And for them, energy security takes precedence over climate considerations right now.”

Professor Moe also believes that geopolitics trump most for China. “If the choice is between geopolitics and energy security on one side and climate considerations on the other, China will undoubtedly choose the first,” he says.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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