Amid the monothem of the coronavirus and the new Cold War between the United States and China, no one expected Tuesday night at the UN General Assembly that Chinese President Xi Jinping would speak of a green revolution. What's more, no one expected him to ask the world to join in on China's new plans on carbon emissions.
Xi's words in his virtual speech came as a surprise. Especially after Donald Trump said minutes before that China should “be held accountable for the virus” and pay for its “rampant contamination.” Trump was blunt: “Those who attack America's exceptional environmental record while ignoring rampant pollution from China are not interested in the environment.” But Xi, in a calmer tone than his American counterpart, tried to disguise himself with the affable mask and spoke of the green revolution and that his country was going to push forward the goal of the Paris climate agreement.
It should be remembered that China is the largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the world, responsible for about 28% of global emissions. And that, due to the pandemic, global climate negotiations are stalled and the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26) postponed until November 2021.
In this context, the Chinese leader promised that his country would reach the cap on carbon emissions by 2030 and reach neutrality in its emissions in 40 years. That is to say,
from 2060 the second world power will not release additional CO2 into the atmosphere. The carbon neutrality to which Xi Jinping has referred is achieved when the same amount of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere from which it is removed in different ways.
It is the first time that the largest emitter of carbon dioxide – according to the latest specific data, those of 2018, emissions in China were 11,255,878 kilotonnes, 1.52% compared to 2017 – has committed to specific plans to achieve the so-called “zero footprint”. Although the Asian giant has been championing the leadership of renewable energy for years and adapting each year a firmer public position on climate action.
“China will increase its planned nationally determined contributions by adopting more aggressive policies and measures,” said Xi, also urging other countries to seek a “green recovery of the world economy in the post-covid era, taking advantage of the historic opportunities presented by the new round of the scientific and technological revolution. “
Priority on the agenda
Speaking to Reuters, Todd Stern, who was the US climate envoy under the Obama administration brokered a bilateral climate agreement with China in 2014, says Xi Jinping's announcement is encouraging and “big and important news: the closer to 2050, the better. “
From Greenpeace, the organization's executive director, Jennifer Morgan, affirms that Xi's commitment “is an important signal that responding to the climate crisis is a priority and a priority on China's agenda.”
For Li Shuo, a Greenpeace climate diplomacy expert,
Xi's promise – minutes after Trump's speech – was a bold and well-calculated move . “Six years ago, the secret climate agreement between the US and China was a pleasant surprise. Six years later, by playing the climate card a little differently, Xi has not only injected much-needed momentum into the global climate policy, but has presented an intriguing geopolitical question to the world: On a global commons issue, China has advanced independently of the US, “Li says.
Xi's promise will have to be backed up with more detail and concrete application. How soon can China reach its emissions peak? How to reconcile carbon neutrality with China's current coal expansion? These are tough questions that demand a better response from Beijing, “continues the Greenpeace expert.
Last week, during another virtual summit between the leaders of the European Union and Xi Jinping, China was pressured to commit to carbon neutrality in early 2050. The EU already announced a few days ago that it would present a further climate plan. solid at the end of the year. And the new announcement and date set by Xi at the UN has pleased European leaders.
War on pollution
“I welcome President Xi's announcement that China has set a date for its CO2 emissions to peak and become carbon neutral by 2060,” Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Green Deal, said on social media. “We need decisive action from all countries to keep temperatures under control, address climate change and keep our planet habitable.”
In addition, from Beijing, the Chinese government's special adviser for Climate Change Affairs, Xie Zhenhua, said last week that China had met its 2020 carbon emissions target with a three-year schedule. Xie, who led the Chinese delegation in the global climate negotiations from 2007 to 2018, also had an online debate with former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, where he expressed that “China is currently putting the finishing touches on a new five-year plan that will determine how it will ambitiously proceed with its short-term decarbonization plans. ” The Chinese adviser spoke of modernizing the manufacturing industry and making it “smart” to develop “in a decarbonization direction.”
Also long ago, front-line figures within the Chinese Communist Party such as Li Keqiang, the prime minister, openly declared on television the “war against pollution and carbon dioxide emissions with the same determination that we have done against poverty. “.
For the first time in China, protecting the environment came ahead of economic growth. In Beijing, the construction of coal-fired power plants was banned. The plants that were already in operation were forced to reduce their emissions due to the threat that their coal was going to be replaced by natural gas. Mines were closed, and iron and steel production declined. And in the middle of the pandemic in the capital of China, recycling has been imposed in every house. In recent months, large cities like Beijing are favoring clean energy over fossil fuels in their coronavirus recovery package. However, the provinces have rebuilt coal-fired power plants to restart economic growth.