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China’s Surprise 2060 Carbon Neutrality Pledge

Updated: Jan 13

Nick Webb reports as China announces its new carbon neutrality goal.

Photo by Sam Beasley

China, the country with the highest levels of carbon emissions in the world, has pledged to become “carbon neutral” by 2060. In a speech to the United Nations general assembly last week (September 2020), president Xi Jinping shocked climate change activists by promising to reach “peak carbon” by 2030, and from there diminishing to zero emissions in the proceeding 30 years. 

This is the first time that the Chinese government has promised long-term environmental policy goals, and is part of what president Jinping is calling a “green recovery” from the Coronavirus pandemic, which has effectively stonewalled environmental action from the world’s governments this year. 

The new pledge comes ahead of the COP26 Summit next year, where the governments of the world are expected to promise new environmental reforms in order to reach the targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and keep global warming under 1.5◦C.

Action Required

China is responsible for 28% of global carbon emissions, and is the second highest burner of oil (behind the US). This sudden and dramatic pledge of complete neutrality is going to require a huge reverse of the way China has generated power for decades. Currently, China gets 85% of its power from fossil fuels, and only 15% from renewable sources. Climate experts say that this essentially needs to invert if there is to be success. China’s rapidly growing industry-based economy is hugely dependent on burning fossil fuels, and this reliance is going to have to be cut off quickly. 

Analysts have said “the magnitude of the needed reductions will be dramatic”, but also suggested that adding in “carbon-capture” technology and carbon offsets such as planting trees could help reduce net emissions. They also have suggested that China will need to rapidly convert to using electrical and biofuels to power transportation systems. 

Xi Nan, analyst from Rystad Energy, has said that there will need to be “massive policy support” from within the Chinese Communist Party in order to enact the “unexpected, ambitious plan” on time. 

“[China’s] carbon neutrality goal is absolutely feasible both technically and economically. With China and the EU both setting stronger targets, the picture for how the world can meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement just got much clearer.” – Richard Baron, Executive Director of the NGO 2050 Pathways Platform

The sheer scale of investment required to enable China to meet these new targets is predicted to raise the country’s GDP by as much as 5% within the next 10 years. This huge level of investment is also expected to cause spill-over into neighbouring countries so that they will consequently have easier access to more environmentally-friendly energy resources. It also has the potential to drive down the prices of renewable energy worldwide, as has already been seen as the recent growth in demand for solar panels in China has caused a global price drop. 

Using Cambridge Econometrics modelling, it has been predicted that Chinese carbon neutrality by 2060 could avoid 215 billion tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. This effort by a single country could see a reduction in predicted global temperature rise by as much as 0.2-0.3 Degrees.

The Global Outlook

This new pledge starkly contrasts Trump’s climate change-scepticism, as the US is preparing to leave the Paris Agreement, which would remove American commitments of lowering their carbon emissions. This sends a very nuanced geopolitical message, as the US is now the only major global power to not have an emissions reduction target in place. 

Should Joe Biden win the 2020 US presidential election, he has promised to return to the Agreement; if this happens, then Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, has said that as the top three emitters of Greenhouse Gasses (China, the US and the EU) would all have net-zero emissions targets by mid-century, “placing the 1.5◦C warming limit of the Paris agreement firmly in reach.”

You may also like: Climate Change to Leave Parts of UK Without Water

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