September 23, 2020 Read More →

China pledges to become carbon neutral by 2060


Less than an hour after U.S. President Donald Trump took to the virtual floor of the United Nations General Assembly and slammed China for its environmental record, China’s President Xi Jinping stunned the climate community by pledging that it would become carbon neutral by 2060.

The two nearly back-to-back speeches provided a marked and powerful contrast. There are still many questions to be answered about China’s plan—most importantly how the country will define carbon neutrality. But the bare fact that China, by far the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, has set out a net-zero pledge ahead of the U.S. shows how hard Beijing is striving to put itself at the center of global politics and the economic shift to clean energy—something Washington has been unwilling to do.

China first committed in 2015 to reaching peak carbon emissions before 2030, a goal Xi reiterated in his speech on Tuesday. This was the first time, however, that the president had discussed zeroing out emissions. Today, the country is responsible for 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

All Paris signatories are required to update their commitments under the agreement before the end of the year, and China could release more details on its climate plans at that time. The country’s leadership is also set to reveal more about its path toward cutting emissions as part of its five-year plan for 2021 to 2025, which will be released next month, with details to be made public in March of next year.

Whether or not China’s climate plans include putting limits on its coal power financing is another key question. The country wields enormous influence around the world through its Belt and Road initiative. Coal-fired power generation in Pakistan rose 57% in the fiscal year ended this past June, for instance, largely on the back of Chinese investments.

China also leads the world in the deployment of clean-energy technologies. To reach net-zero emissions in less than three decades, the country will have to double down on them. That, in turn, will make them cheaper and enable other countries to set even more ambitious climate goals.

“China may still be building coal-fired power plants, but momentum is slowing and will soon grind to a halt as the pathetic economics of new coal is exposed,” said Cameron Hepburn, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford. “In the meantime, China has become a wind, solar and battery superpower, with hydrogen now in its sights.”

[Laura Millan Lombrana, Akshat Rathi and Eric Roston]

More: China beat the U.S. to a carbon neutrality pledge

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