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China pledges carbon neutrality by 2060: a turning point for the world?

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

As governments, corporations and environmentalists the world over try to maintain or accelerate progress towards meeting the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, there has been one seemingly insurmountable problem: China. Already responsible for 50% of the world’s consumption of coal and second only to US in oil consumption, it is estimated that China generates about 28% of global carbon emissions.

China had seemed reluctant to commit to targets which other countries have signed up to and there was dismay during the summer when the latest statistics for the global coal industry were published. These showed China bucking the global trend by continuing to open coal plants as the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated closures elsewhere.

To counter this unwanted news, a report published in August showed that China had emerged as the country at the forefront of new offshore wind installations. They are expected to greatly exceed the capacity generated by another other country by 2030.

More good news, described by some as game-changing, came when President Xi Jingping announced on September 22nd that China is pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 and the country’s carbon emissions would peak before 2030. President Xi called on the world to effect a green recovery from the pandemic and said China would adopt “more vigorous policies and measures” to meet their targets.

The news was welcomed unilaterally as it was China’s first ever long-term commitment to carbon neutrality. It came only a week after the EU had strengthened its commitment to the Paris agreement by pledging to reduce emissions by about 55% of the 1990 baseline amount. The EU’s previous target was 40% of the 1990 figure.

Earlier in the year, the UN’s climate summit (Cop26) was postponed by a year until November 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The disappointment caused by this delay has been tempered by the EU and China announcements which should ramp up pressure on other countries to pledge renewed decarbonisation targets amid global recognition that the pandemic has highlighted the need to do so.

The world now awaits the next move from the US. President Trump has stated his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on the day after the US presidential election in November. Joe Biden, the Democrat nominee for presidency, has vowed that the US will rejoin the agreement if he is successful.

Amid the chaos of the first TV debate between the two candidates on September 29th, President Trump again questioned climate change and is unlikely to modify his stance and continuing support of fossil fuel industries.


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