Review of Nationally Determined Contributions (NCD) of China from the perspective of food systems
China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) and one of the countries most affected by climate change. China’s food systems are a major contributor to climate change: in 2018, China’s food systems emitted 1.09 billion tons of carbondioxide equivalent (CO2eq) GHGs, accounting for 8.2% of total national GHG emissions and 2% of global emissions. According to the Third National Communication (TNC) Report, in 2010, GHG emissions from energy, industrial processes, agriculture, and waste accounted for 78.6%, 12.3%, 7.9%, and 1.2% of total emissions, respectively, (excluding emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). Total GHG emissions from the waste sector in 2010 were 132 Mt CO2 eq, with municipal solid waste landfills accounting for 56 Mt. The average temperature in China has risen by 1.1°C over the last century (1908–2007), while nationally averaged precipitation amounts have increased significantly over the last 50 years. The sea level and sea surface temperature have risen by 90 mm and 0.9°C respectively in the last 30 years. A regional climate model predicted an annual mean temperature increase of 1.3–2.1°C by 2020 (2.3–3.3°C by 2050), while another model predicted a 1–1.6°C temperature increase and a 3.3–3.7 percent increase in precipitation between 2011 and 2020, depending on the emissions scenario. By 2030, sea level rise along coastal areas could be 0.01–0.16 meters, increasing the likelihood of flooding and intensified storm surges and causing the degradation of wetlands, mangroves, and coral reefs. Addressing climate change is a common human cause, and China places a high value on combating climate change. Climate change has been incorporated into national economic and social development plans, with equal emphasis on mitigation and adaptation to climate change, including an updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in 2021. The following overarching targets are included in China’s updated NDC: • Peaking carbon dioxide emissions “before 2030” and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060. • Lowering carbon intensity by “over 65%” by 2030 from the 2005 level. • Increasing forest stock volume by around 6 billion cubic meters in 2030 from the 2005 level. The targets have come from several commitments made at various events, while China has explained very well the process adopted to produce its third national communication report. An examination of China’s NDC reveals that it has failed to establish quantifiable and measurable targets in the agricultural sectors. According to the analysis of the breakdown of food systems and their inclusion in the NDC, the majority of food system activities are poorly mentioned. China’s interventions or ambitions in this sector have received very little attention. The adaptation component is mentioned in the NDC, but is not found to be sector-specific or comprehensive. A few studies have rated the Chinese NDC as insufficient, one of the reasons being its failure to list the breakdown of each sector’s clear pathway to achieving its goals. China’s NDC lacks quantified data on food system sub-sectors. Climate Action Trackers’ “Insufficient” rating indicates that China’s domestic target for 2030 requires significant improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s target of 1.5°C temperature limit. Some efforts are being made: for example, scientists from the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (IEDA-CAAS) have developed methods for calculating GHG emissions from livestock and poultry farmers that have been published as an industrial standard by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, PRC (Prof Hongmin Dong, personal communication) but this still needs to be consolidated and linked to China’s NDC. The updated Nationally Determined Contributions fall short of quantifiable targets in agriculture and food systems as a whole, necessitating clear pathways. China’s NDC is found to be heavily focused on a few sectors, including energy, transportation, and urban-rural development. The agricultural sectors’ and food systems’ targets are vague, and China’s agrifood system has a large carbon footprint. As a result, China should focus on managing the food system (production, processing, transportation, and food waste management) to reduce carbon emissions. Furthermore, China should take additional measures to make its climate actions more comprehensive, quantifiable, and measurable, such as setting ambitious and clear targets for the agriculture sector, including activity-specific GHG-reduction pathways; prioritizing food waste and loss reduction and management; promoting sustainable livestock production and low carbon diets; reducing chemical pollution; minimizing the use of fossil fuel in the agri-system and focusing on developing green jobs, technological advancement and promoting climate-smart agriculture; promoting indigenous practices and locally led adaptation; restoring degraded agricultural soils and enhancing cooperation and private partnership. China should also prepare detailed NDC implementation plans including actions and the GHG reduction from conditional targets.