President Xi Jinping surprised the international community with China’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. How this will occur is yet to be seen.
By 2060 China will reach carbon neutrality, eliminating net emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 into the atmosphere. Chinese president Xi Jinping announced the plan via videoconference during the 75th session of the United Nations general assembly, adding that China’s emissions peak will occur by 2030.
A turning point for the world’s biggest polluter
China is the country that contributes most to the heating of our planet. The Asian superpower is in fact responsible for 29 per cent of global greenhouse emissions. Up to recently, China had only committed to hitting its emissions peak by year 2030. Comparatively, its new goal aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060 gives an important boost to the fight against climate change.
“Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature,” Xi Jinping underlined. “China will keep increasing its predicted contribution at a national level, adopting policies and vigorous measures. We ask all countries to encourage development that is more innovative, coordinated, green and open to everyone”. His appeal, therefore, wasn’t only directed at his own country but the rest of the international community too.
Nations around the world have been called upon several times to raise their climate ambitions so that the objectives established by the 2015 Paris Agreement can be met as soon as possible. Up to now, only smaller countries such as Norway and Finland have demonstrated a solid commitment to achieving carbon neutrality. China’s new position reflects that of the European Union, which recently announced its aim to reduce emissions by 55 per cent by 2030. It also creates a shift in international politics, leaving global players like Donald Trump’s United States far behind, at least in terms of stated climate objectives.
“This announcement will send positive shockwaves through diplomatic circles and should prompt greater climate ambition from other major emitters,” says Helen Mountford, Vice President of Climate and Economics at the World Resources Institute. “The case for ambitious climate action is stronger than ever and can deliver a strong economic recovery from Covid-19”.
According to some analysts, the fact that Xi has decided to present himself in a new role as a politician committed to the climate cause is no coincidence. The issue is extremely pertinent to the global agenda, except in the case of the US, which has frequently ignored the topic of global warming, as demonstrated by the current electoral campaign in which politicians have aimed to gain political advantage through emphasis on other issues. It is likely, therefore, that China will want to acquire international leadership of efforts to mitigate the climate crisis in the near future.
Shadows over China
“Xi’s pledge will need to be backed up with greater detail and concrete implementation,” as Li Shou, senior Greenpeace Asia representative, underlined. “How much earlier can China peak its emissions? How to reconcile carbon neutrality with China’s ongoing coal expansion? These are hard questions that demand a better response from Beijing”.
While China expressed strong words at the United Nations, these lacked concrete details in terms of how its intentions will be put it in practice. Rather than outlining a precise strategy for achieving carbon neutrality, Xi made a declaration of intent. Some points, however, aren’t particularly convincing.
According to the general consensus, global carbon neutrality should be reached by 2050, and if exceeded, this could lead to a point of no return for the planet. China, therefore, is already 10 years behind schedule. What is more, a few months prior to the pandemic, Beijing began constructing new coal-fired electric power plants. Not the ideal premise for its candidacy as the new global leader in the fight against the climate crisis.