China hopes to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060


It was a surprise. During his speech to the UN General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China has “the objective to start lowering CO2 emissions before 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060”. This is a first. In addition, Beijing will increase its climate commitments under the Paris climate agreement, added the Chinese president. These commitments are freely set by each signatory country, but they commit them, and they are supposed to be regularly revised upwards. The next round of increases is considered crucial to really curb the global carbon emissions curve and limit global warming.

“All countries must take decisive action to honor this agreement,” said Jinping, implicitly pointing out that the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, would pull out in November, according to a decision by Donald Trump. China was already well on track to cap its emissions before 2030 (the “peak” in climate jargon). As for the 2060 target, it is less ambitious than the 2050 date adopted by dozens of small countries and a few large ones, including those of the European Union, but it was hailed by several experts as a major step towards reviving the Paris agreement.

“The devil is in the details and China will need to set specific targets in the short term, as well as an earlier peak date, but China’s path to a zero-carbon future is becoming clearer,” said Helen Mountford, vice president of the World Resources Institute. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a Belgian climatologist and former vice-president of the IPCC, the UN climate panel, told Agence France-Presse that the announcement is “very important”, but warned that China will have to be “consistent” and stop financing coal-fired power plants or other fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa.

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2060, “the earliest realistic date for China”.
Reducing net carbon emissions into the atmosphere to zero by the middle of the century is essential to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to the end of the 19th century, concluded UN climate experts in a baseline report in 2018. “This is probably the earliest realistic date for China,” agrees Neil Hirst, a researcher at Imperial College London, about 2060. “It’s a big challenge that will involve shutting down or refurbishing a large number of relatively modern fossil fuel power plants,” he points out. The disappointment of the experts comes from the fact that China has not brought forward the date for the “peak” of carbon emissions, the date of 2030 being assured to be held due to the rapid growth of renewable energy in the country.

In his own message to the UN, the U.S. president accused China of “throwing millions and millions of tons of plastic and garbage into the oceans” and other environmental violations, and boasted that U.S. CO2 emissions were reduced last year. That’s true, but far from enough. Donald Trump, by removing his country from the agreement and demolishing several pillars of Barack Obama’s climate plan, has significantly slowed U.S. progress. This was only partially offset by a movement of initiatives and regulations at the state and city levels. The Chinese ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, replied that the United States had no lessons to give to anyone: “They are the ones who did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, they are the ones who got out of the Paris agreement”. The future of the 2015 agreement will be partly determined by the US presidential election of November 3. The Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, has promised to become a signatory again, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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