IN what has been called a surprise announcement by multiple media outlets, Xi Jinping, President of China, informed the United Nations General Assembly that China aims to be “carbon neutral” before 2060.
China is the world’s largest emitter, accounting for around 28% of global CO2 emissions. It had previously made a commitment in 2015 to ensure its emissions peak before 2030, but this was the first time that a zero emissions target has been discussed.
“Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature and go down the beaten path of extracting resources without investing in conservation, pursuing development at the expense of protection, and exploiting resources without restoration,” said Xi. “The Paris Agreement on climate change charts the course for the world to transition to green and low-carbon development. It outlines the minimum steps to be taken to protect the Earth, our shared homeland, and all countries must take decisive steps to honour this agreement.”
His speech followed that of US President Donald Trump, who had criticised China for its “rampant pollution” record. The US is due to leave the Paris Agreement in November, one day after the presidential election. The announcement from Xi leaves the US as the largest emitter in the world without a net zero target.
Xi did not say how carbon neutrality would be defined or give details on any policies. However, all signatories of the Paris Agreement are required to give new or updated nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) by the end of the year.
Neil Hirst, Senior Policy Fellow for Energy and Mitigation, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said: “The commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060 is new and important. This may be the earliest realistic date for China to aim for. It is a tough challenge that implies early retirement or retrofitting of a lot of fairly modern fossil-based plants.”
According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, the scale of investments needed to reach the net zero goal would not only reduce the county’s emissions, but would also lower the cost of clean energy and create a “spillover” effect as the technologies become implemented in other countries. This has already happened with solar panels.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said on Twitter: “I welcome China’s ambition to curb emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. It's an important step in our global fight against climate change under the Paris Agreement. We will work with China on this goal. But a lot of work remains to be done.”
Last week, the EU and China agreed to establish a High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue to pursue joint climate commitments.
Li Yan, Greenpeace’s China Chief Representative, said: “If China, long held up as the world’s biggest emitter, can commit to carbon neutrality, justifications for delaying climate action melt away.
“How China’s commitment plays out on the ground is key. Will we see greater investment in low-carbon industries as part of Covid-19 economic recovery? How soon can China leave coal behind, and can the country’s renewables industry maintain its momentum? These are the follow-up questions that we need to ask. Meeting these goals requires a low-carbon transition across the entire economy, including in transport, manufacturing, agriculture and consumption, not only in the energy sector.”
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