Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed Tuesday that the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter will peak emissions in 2030 and go carbon neutral by 2060, in what climate activists hailed as a major step forward.
The goals were the most concrete yet announced by China, which accounts for one quarter of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions blamed for fast-rising temperatures.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Xi renewed his support for the Paris climate accord and called for a green focus as the world recovers from the Covid-19 crisis.
The Paris accord “outlines the minimum steps to be taken to protect the Earth, our shared homeland, and all countries must take decisive steps to honor this agreement”, Xi said in a virtual address.
“We aim to have C02 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” he said.
Xi urged all nations to “seize the historic opportunities presented by the new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation”.
China, in its submission under the Paris accord, had said that its emissions would peak “around” 2030.
The European Union had been pushing China to be more ambitious by moving the peak date to 2025, arguing that the five years were crucial as the planet falls behind in fighting climate change.
The Paris climate deal enjoins nations to limit global temperature rises to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels through a rapid and sweeping drawdown of greenhouse gas emissions.
But emissions have continued to rise since then and President Donald Trump has pulled out the United States, the second largest emitter.
‘A defining moment’
Joeri Rogelj, a climate expert at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute, called Xi’s pledge “unexpected and eye-opening”.
“All in all, China’s announcement is a defining moment that resets the ambition of global climate action,” he said.
Faced with poor air quality and rising temperatures, China has moved aggressively to cap coal and move to renewable energies.
The 2060 objective is still less ambitious than the 2050 date set by dozens of small states as well as European powers.
Several experts said it was still a significant step to bring new life to the Paris accords.
“This announcement will send positive shockwaves through diplomatic circles and should prompt greater climate ambition from other major emitters,” said Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute in Washington.
But she cautioned that the “devil will be in the details” and said that China should set more specific goals in the nearer term.
Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a Belgian climate scientist and former vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN expert panel, called Xi’s commitment “very important”.
But he questioned whether China would follow its own guidelines as it pursues a global infrastructure-building binge—for example, if it will still back coal plants in Africa.
“If this coherence is lacking, the progress made in China could be lost due to additional emissions by Chinese-built or -funded fossil infrastructure in developing countries,” he said.
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Trump on attack
Xi’s tone contrasted sharply with that of Trump, who called the Paris accord negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama unfair to the United States.
Trump says he is standing up for US constituencies such as coal miners and has loosened environmental rules, although individual US states such as California have insisted on fighting climate change on their own.
“Those who attack America’s exceptional environmental record while ignoring China’s rampant pollution are not interested in the environment,” Trump said in a UN speech shortly before Xi.
“They only want to punish America, and I will not stand for it.”
China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, scoffed at the remarks by Trump, who devoted his speech to attacking Beijing over Covid-19.
“The United States should be the last one to talk about climate change,” he told reporters.
“They are the one who are disassociating itself from the international efforts on climate change.”
The future of the Paris accord will be partly determined on November 3 as Trump runs for reelection against Joe Biden, who has pledged to return the United States to the agreement and move toward carbon neutrality by 2050.