China will aim to hit peak emissions before 2030 and for carbon neutrality by 2060, President Xi Jinping has announced.
Mr Xi outlined the steps when speaking via videolink to the UN General Assembly in New York.
The announcement is being seen as a significant step in the fight against climate change.
China is the world’s biggest source of carbon dioxide, responsible for around 28% of global emissions.
With global climate negotiations stalled and this year’s conference of the parties (COP26) postponed until 2021, there had been little expectation of progress on the issue at the UN General Assembly.
However China’s president surprised the UN gathering by making a bold statement about his country’s plans for tackling emissions.
He called on all countries to achieve a green recovery for the world economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the official translation, Mr Xi went on to say:
“We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”
Until now China has said it would peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest, but it has avoided committing to a long-term goal.
Emissions from China continued to rise in 2018 and 2019 even as much of the world began to shift away from fossil fuels.
While the Covid-19 crisis this spring saw the country’s emissions plunge by 25%, by June they had bounced back again as coal-fired plants, cement and other heavy industries went back to work.
Observers believe that in making this statement at this time, the Chinese leader is taking advantage of US reluctance to address the climate question.
“Xi Jinping’s climate pledge at the UN, minutes after President Donald Trump’s speech, is clearly a bold and well calculated move,” said Li Shuo, an expert on Chinese climate policy from Greenpeace Asia.
“It demonstrates Xi’s consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes.”
So what do we make of this?
I suppose the first point to make is that “pledges” from dictatorships such as China are in essence worthless. Indeed, it is not even a pledge, only an “aim”.
Xi won’t be around for ever, and his successor may well tear up any pledges made, or policies enacted. Indeed, this is the way China’s communist party works – all of the failures will be blamed on the hapless Xi in due course, and his policies purged.
Beyond that, Xi’s pledge contains no actual proposals or specific targets. He promises that emissions will peak before 2030, but I cannot see any difference between that and his Paris pledge that they will “peak by 2030 at the latest”.
There is no commitment about the level they will peak at. Nor are there any targets quantifying when and how much subsequent cuts in emissions will be.
Finally, we should be extremely suspicious about the use of the term “climate neutrality”. If China were really serious, they would simply promise to cut emissions to zero.
Climate neutrality can mean that they will offset emissions by land use changes, planting more trees and so on. However, such offsets are notoriously difficult to monitor and measure, and therefore would be meaningless.
Alternatively, China may obtain carbon offsets from abroad. Again, as we have already seen, these too are often worthless. Given China’s increasing economic imperialism abroad, it is not difficult to see them buying up offsets cheaply, maybe in lieu of debts.
The Climate Action Tracker website gives a more realistic assessment than gullible Matt McGrath, and they rate it “Highly Insufficient”:
They too complain that there is no detail anywhere in Xi’s announcement. They also point out that China is continuing to ramp up the use of coal:
Positively, the government has issued broader stimulus packages to double down on existing priorities transitioning industry and labour force towards a modernised digital economy rather than restarting traditional infrastructure strategy, and remains committed to accelerated penetration of renewable energy systems and electric vehicles. However, recovery activities remain carbon-intensive and require high energy demand from a system run primarily on fossil fuels, while the phasing out of supply-side incentives has affected the growth of renewables and electric mobility in recent years. Most worryingly, China remains committed to supporting the coal industry while the rest of the world experiences a decline, and is now home to half of the world’s coal capacity. The CAT keeps its rating of China as “Highly insufficient”.
China’s coal activities remain a large concern and are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement. It would need to phase out coal before 2040 under 1.5˚C compatible pathways, but it appears to be going in the opposite direction. After lifting a previous construction ban on new coal plants in 2018, China has rolled back policies restricting new coal plant permitting in each of the last three years. By mid-2020 China had permitted more new coal plant capacity than in 2018 and 2019 combined, bringing its total coal capacity in the pipeline to 250 GW, and brought 10 GW of new plants online. China is going against the global shift away from coal and now possesses roughly half of the world’s coal power capacity as well as coal-fired power plants in development.
China is the world’s largest financier and builder of both fossil fuel and renewables infrastructure worldwide. Of all coal-fired plants under development outside of China, one quarter, or 102 GW of capacity, have involved funding from Chinese financial institutions and/or companies. However, COVID-19 has – for now – curbed China’s investments on fossil infrastructure overseas, and its share of investment into foreign renewable projects has reached its highest-ever values.
The motivation behind Xi’s statement, and indeed its timing, are clear. It is intended for foreign consumption. Already it appears to be encouraging the idiots in Brussels to keep pursuing their economically ruinous climate agenda, which of course is in China’s interest.
And it already being swallowed whole by the likes of Matt McGrath.
But I believe the speech was really aimed at the US. China is coming under increasing pressure over not only its trade policies, but also human rights abuses, aggression in the South China Sea, and threats to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Under Obama, they were given free reign, as he was so keen to get them on board for the Paris Agreement.
Trump of course has no such compunction. However, a compliant Biden presidency, desperate for Chinese concessions on climate, would almost certainly capitulate to China once again.
One of the most powerful arguments against Biden’s New Green Deal is that China’ emissions are still rising rapidly.
Xi’s latest speech is a crude attempt to influence the upcoming US election.
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September 25, 2020 at 06:09AM