China, the world’s top global emitter, aims to go carbon-neutral by 2060
Chinese President Xi Jinping says his country will aim to stop contributing to climate change by 2060.
- China is aiming for its CO2 emissions to peak before 2030
- The goal will be a challenge for China, which relies heavily on coal for its electricity
- Heavy summer rain in China unleashed the most punishing flood season in 30 years
Mr Xi’s announcement, during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, is a significant step for the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide [CO2].
Calling for a “green revolution”, Mr Xi said the coronavirus pandemic had shown the need to preserve the environment.
“Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature,” he said.
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Citing the Paris Agreement, that he and former US president Barack Obama helped forge in 2015, Mr Xi said his country would meet better emissions reduction targets with “vigorous policies and measures”.
“We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” he said.
The term “carbon neutrality” means releasing no additional CO2 into the atmosphere, though technically it allows countries to keep emitting if they ensure that an equal amount is captured again in some form.
The announcement was cheered by climate campaigners.
Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan called it “an important signal” that showed climate change is “top of agenda for China”.
China currently relies heavily on coal
The United States and China have been hit this year by extreme weather of the kind predicted by climate change scientists.
The goal will be a challenge for China, which relies heavily on coal — one of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels — for its electricity.
China released the equivalent of 10 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, according to the Global Carbon Project, which tracks emissions worldwide.
That was almost twice as much as the US and three times as much as the European Union.
Several other major emitters have set earlier deadlines, with the EU aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Neither Australia or the US have set similar goals.
US President Donald Trump, who once described climate change as a hoax invented by China, has started the process of pulling the US out of the Paris agreement.
If China fulfills Mr Xi’s goal, it could prevent 0.2 to 0.4 degrees of further warming for the world, according to “very rough estimates” by Massachusetts Institute of Technology management professor John Sterman, who models and tracks emission reductions.
Perhaps even more important than the carbon neutrality pledge is the effort to peak CO2 emissions before 2030 instead of by 2030, Mr Sterman said, adding he has to do a more thorough analysis.
Carbon dioxide’s more than 100-year lifetime in the air makes earlier emission cuts more effective than promises in the future, he said.
“Emissions that don’t happen between now and 2030 are going to reduce warming a lot more than the same emission reductions after 2060,” Mr Sterman said.
Mr Sterman said action is needed to eliminate plans to build new coal-fired power plants, cut subsidies for coal power and stop using coal entirely.
Coal is the biggest CO2 emitter of power sources.
China is the 30th nation to pledge carbon neutrality, according to the Carbon Neutrality Coalition.
Those countries have varying target dates, and account for about 43 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
The largest polluting countries not on the list are the US, India, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil and Australia.