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China makes unexpected net zero by 2060 pledge

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China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the international community in September by announcing that the country would pursue a net zero by 2060 target. China is the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases – accounting for some 28% of global emissions. It is also famously reliant on coal to power its homes and industries.

In a videolink speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Xi also promised that the country’s emissions would peak before 2030. However, critics have noted that the pledge is presently light on details and says nothing of the steps required to implement it.

According to Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which monitors emissions commitments, the new pledge shaves 0.2°C–0.3°C off of this century’s projected warming. Assuming the full implementation of Paris Agreement targets, CAT has estimated that global temperature increase will be 2.7°C by 2100. China’s new goal lowers this warming to around 2.4°C or 2.5°C.

However, analysis by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) suggests that – despite its commitment to carbon neutrality – China is focusing its COVID recovery on high-carbon infrastructure. CREA researchers analysed major project lists for eight Chinese provinces, which make up half the country’s CO2 emissions, and identified over 4,000 projects with a total cost of nearly $3tn.

Around $920bn of this is set aside for investment in energy or transport, of which fossil fuel projects and railways each account for around a third of the total. In contrast, CREA reports that just $49bn has been set aside for renewables, while $18bn has been directed towards nuclear energy. Electric vehicles, batteries and energy storage got $11bn, or 1.3% of planned state investment.

CAT analysts also noted that the ‘before 2060’ target is not soon enough to keep warming to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C high-ambition target. ‘However, a commitment to carbon neutrality from China is very welcome as it requires a rethink of all infrastructure investments that will last for decades,’ said Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, one of CAT’s two partner organisations.

‘This thinking would need to also extend to the climate impact of such investments under China’s Belt and Road Initiatives,’ he added.

If the EU, China and the US all made (and met) mid-century carbon neutrality goals, the 1.5°C warming limit could be adhered to. While Europe has already made such a promise, the US has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. Joe Biden, who is challenging incumbent President Donald Trump in November’s election, has promised to set a 2050 target if he wins office.

Photo: United Nations

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Countries: China -

Subjects: Policy and Governance - Net zero -

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