Climate change: China surprises and aims for ‘carbon neutrality by 2060’

In a speech at the UN Assembly the president of China, Xi Jinping surprised the world and announced that China would hit its peak emissions in less than 10 years and carbon neutrality by 2060. 

President Xi outlined these steps via video link during the UN General Assembly in New York. This announcement marked a significant step in the battle against climate change. 

China as the largest carbon dioxide source in the world is responsible for about 28% of the world’s total emissions.

Given that global climate negotiations have stalled and the COP26 has been postponed till next year, there is little expectation of progress on the issue of climate change.

Nevertheless, the Chinese president’s announcement of his country’s plans to tackle emissions surprised those at the general meeting.

Additionally, he called on every nation to work towards a green recovery from the COVID 19 pandemic for the global economy. 

Mr. Xi was quoted by the official translation, saying:

“We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”

Before this time China had stated its emissions would peak at the latest, by 2030. However, it had always evaded committing to a long-term aim. 

Chinese emissions rose in 2018 and 2019 even as the rest of the world began switching to alternative power methods. Whilst the global pandemic saw the nation’s emissions decrease by 25%, they rebounded by June as heavy industries and coal-fired plants began operating again. 

Expert observers believe that by choosing this time to make such a statement, Mr. Xi is actively taking advantage of the US’ reluctance to address climate change. 

Li Shuo, a Greenpeace Asia expert on Chinese climate policy stated that “Xi Jinping’s climate pledge at the UN, minutes after President Donald Trump’s speech, is clearly a bold and well-calculated move,”. 

Furthermore, Li added, “It demonstrates Xi’s consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes.” 

It was back in 2014 that President Xi concluded a surprise agreement on climate change with then US President Barack Obama. This agreement became the foundation on which the Paris Agreement was built from. 

According to Li Shuo, Mr. Xi has yet again delivered another surprise according to Li Shuo.

Li Shuo surmised, “By playing the climate card a little differently, Xi has not only injected much-needed momentum to global climate politics, but presented an intriguing geopolitical question in front of the world: on a global common issue, China has moved ahead regardless of the US. Will Washington follow?”

There are numerous questions left unanswered concerning the announcement including what carbon neutrality means and the actions China would take to achieve it. 

Todd Stern, a former US climate envoy said, “Today’s announcement by President Xi Jinping that China intends to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 is big and important news – the closer to 2050 the better,” 

“His announcement that China will start down this road right away by adopting more vigorous policies is also welcome. Simply peaking emissions ‘before 2030’ won’t be enough to put China on the rapid path needed for carbon neutrality, but overall this is a very encouraging step.” Stern added. 

The majority of climate observers state that the Chinese announcement marked a significant step considering the nation’s role in financing the development of fossil fuel around the globe. 

“China isn’t just the world’s biggest emitter but the biggest energy financier and biggest market, so its decisions play a major role in shaping how the rest of the world progresses with its transition away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change,” said Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a UK-based think tank.

“The announcement today is also a major fillip for the European Union, whose leaders recently urged President Xi to take exactly this step as part of a joint push on lowering emissions, showing that international moves to curb climate change remain alive despite the best efforts of Donald Trump and [Brazil’s president] Jair Bolsonaro in the run-up to next year’s COP26 in Glasgow.” Richard Black also added. Statements above as reported by The BBC News.

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