China pledges for the first time to reach carbon neutrality in 2060

China pledges for the first time to reach carbon neutrality in 2060

The surprising announcement made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a speech to the UN General Assembly was greeted by climate experts as an important step not without its challenges.

China pledges for the first time to reach carbon neutrality in 2060

For the first time, China set itself this Tuesday to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, a decision that strengthens the Paris climate agreement and accentuates the contrast with the attitude of US President Donald Trump.

The surprising announcement made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a speech to the UN General Assembly was hailed by climate experts as an important step not without its challenges.

“Our goal is to have a maximum of CO2 emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060,” Xi said at the annual United Nations meeting that this year is celebrated virtually due to the pandemic. Beijing will increase its climate commitments under the Paris climate agreement, he said.

These commitments are freely established by each signatory country, but they are binding and are supposed to be periodically revised upwards.

The next round of reviews is seen as crucial to really change the global carbon emissions curve and limit global warming.

“We call on all countries to take decisive measures to comply with this agreement,” he added, implicitly underlining that the United States, the world's second largest issuer, will withdraw from the pact in November, according to a Trump decision.

China was already in the direction of limiting its emissions by 2030 (the “peak,” in climate jargon).

The 2060 target is less ambitious than the 2050 target, adopted by dozens of small countries and some large ones, including those in the European Union, but has been hailed by various experts as an important step forward in reviving the Paris Agreement.

“The devil is in the details and China will have to set specific short-term goals, as well as an earlier peak date, but the path taken by Beijing towards a zero-carbon future is becoming clearer,” Helen Mountford said. , vice president of the World Resources Institute.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a Belgian climatologist and former vice president of the IPCC, the UN's climate expert group, told AFP that the announcement is “very important” but warned that China must be “consistent” and stop funding. coal-fired power plants or other fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa.

Reducing net atmospheric carbon emissions to zero by mid-century is critical to limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C, compared to the end of the 19th century, UN climate experts concluded in a landmark report in 2018.

“This is possibly the closest realistic date for China,” agrees Neil Hirst, a researcher at Imperial College London, alluding to the goal of 2060.

“It is a huge challenge that will involve shutting down or renovating a large number of relatively modern fossil fuel power plants,” he said.

The disappointment of experts comes from the fact that China has not set an earlier date for its peak emissions. That of 2030 is the most likely to be fulfilled, they estimate, based on the growth of renewable energies in the country.

In his own message to the UN, the US president accused China of “dumping millions and millions of tons of plastic and garbage into the oceans” and other environmental violations, boasting that US CO2 emissions fell last year.

While that statement is true, it is far from sufficient.

By withdrawing his country from the Paris climate agreement and knocking down several pillars of his predecessor Barack Obama's climate plan, Trump has considerably slowed the United States' progress in this area.

This has been very partially offset by a movement of initiatives and regulations at the level of some states and municipalities.

The Chinese ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, responded that the United States has no right to give lessons to anyone.

“They are the ones who did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the ones who came out of the Paris Agreement,” he said.

The future of the 2015 agreement will be determined in part by the US presidential election on November 3.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has pledged to re-adhere his country to that agreement and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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