Pressure on big emitters as China sets bold climate target amidst pandemic
Updated 21:22, 01-Oct-2020

China announced an ambitious climate pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, putting pressure on big emitters, including the U.S., India and Russia, to revise their carbon emission target. 

"China will scale up its intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. We aim to have carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060," Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday. 

The country's enhanced commitment to meet climate goals comes as the world struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Under pressure to revive the economy, many governments have released stimulus packages without specifying emission limits, worrying climate negotiators.

"Amidst concerns that the post-COVID economic recession might weaken climate ambition, China's move shows its commitment to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change," Hu Min, executive director of innovative Green Development Program (iGDP), a Beijing-based non-profit organization focusing on climate policy and strategy, told CGTN. "China's rising climate ambition will shape the global green growth movement in a positive way."

The announcement about the new target, according to analysts, also comes as the U.S. presidential elections are just five weeks away. With wildfires blazing in California and Oregon, killing residents, razing houses to ashes and affecting air quality, a considerable number of voters are likely to consider the country's climate action plan before they cast their ballot. 

The U.S. has already announced to pull out of the Paris Agreement, angering a large number of people, especially those facing the severe impact of climate-triggered extreme weather events, including wildfires, floods and typhoons.  

According to the Paris Agreement, global efforts should be made towards reducing carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. In order to meet the goals, governments were asked to submit their emission reduction plan through NDC, explaining measures and strategies to curb reliance on fossil fuel.

Chinese officials have underlined that the country has been pursuing to meet climate goals as part of a long-term strategy. "China worked hard to meet the Paris Agreement, hugely sacrificing the economic growth," said Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the UN.

"By meeting the climate commitment, we are also improving the quality of life and development in the country. We have already achieved the 2020 carbon emission target two years early," he added. China also launched a carbon trading scheme in collaboration with the European Union to reduce emissions.

Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, welcoming the announcement by Xi, tweeted that China has set a date for its CO2 emissions to peak and will become carbon neutral before 2060.

"We need decisive action from every country to keep temperatures under control, tackle climate change, and keep our planet inhabitable," he said.

Last year, Luis Alfonso de Alba, special envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit or Conference of Parties 25, urged China to amend its NDC. "We hope China will come up with an incremental NDC to reduce emissions to inspire other countries to take similar action," he told reporters through an online press conference. Alba had also urged India, the U.S. and Russia to re-consider their emissions target. 

China's new climate pledge could brighten up negotiations at the annual Global Climate Change Summit, also known as Conference of Parties (COP26), which has been postponed to be held in Glasgow next year.

COP26 President Alok Sharma tweeted: "Pleased to see President Xi Jinping's commitment to China reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 and to submitting an enhanced NDC. I look forward to hearing more from our Chinese partners and working together to deliver a successful COP26."

Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, applauded China's pledge to peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, as well as the European Union's recent pledge to strengthen its climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement up to a 55 percent reduction by 2030.

"These announcements by two of the world's largest economies set the stage for what will hopefully be many other countries around the globe increasing their ambition to confront climate change," Morris added. 

"The new aspiration announced by President Xi reflected China's unswerving support and decisive steps to enhance climate ambition. They demonstrate China's due responsibility as a major emitter contributing to advance global green growth and to protect our beautiful planet," said Fei Zhou, chief program officer at WWF-China. 

"China's move will put pressure on other big emitting countries to also take bold action. So far, few countries have submitted enhanced NDCs, and none of them are big emitters," said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF global lead for climate and energy. 

(Cover: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the 75th annual UN General Assembly, which is being held mostly virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, September 22, 2020. /Reuters)