Dec 12, 2020 - Energy & Environment

China unveils new emissions and clean energy pledges

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Xinhua News Agency / Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday pledged to cut carbon emissions per unit of economic output by over 65% by 2030 and boost the share of nonfossil fuels in energy consumption to roughly 25% by then.

Why it matters: China is by far the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, and the announcement offers new specifics about the country’s existing climate targets. However, the pledge includes a slightly strengthened emissions intensity target, and some environmentalists’ immediate response to the overall package was lukewarm.

  • The pledge follows Xi's surprise announcement in September that China would aim to be carbon-neutral by 2060 and have its emissions peak before 2030.
  • Today Xi also offered expanded targets on renewable power and forest growth.

Driving the news: His announcement came at a virtual summit marking the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate deal.

  • The UN hosted the event with the U.K., which is hosting the next round of global climate talks next year, and several other nations.

China’s emissions have been on a generally upward march this century and surpassed the U.S. in the mid-2000s, though they dipped slightly this year, per a major analysis released on Thursday.

Yes, but: "This is an incremental step towards the right direction, but more needs to be done to align near term action and China's carbon-free vision," said Li Shuo, a China analyst with Greenpeace, of China's vow to strengthen its targets under the Paris agreement.

He said in an email exchange that China should aim to have its absolute emissions peak before 2025, compared to their pledge last year of a peak sometime before 2030.

And via Bloomberg, Byford Tsang of the climate think tank E3G said: “While this is a step in the right direction, it falls short of what is required to achieve its 2060 neutrality target.”

The big picture: It's among the recent pledges that big emitters are rolling out in recent weeks and days.

  • EU officials yesterday reached a deal to cut emissions 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, though many specifics about implementing the plan remain to be worked out.
  • Also yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. would end support for fossil fuel projects overseas.
  • The U.K. vowed to "end export finance, aid funding and trade promotion for new crude oil, natural gas or thermal coal projects, with very limited exceptions."

The intrigue: The Trump administration did not have anyone speak at the summit. President-elect Biden is vowing not only to rejoin the Paris agreement but also to rally countries to take new steps.

  • "I’ll immediately start working with my counterparts around the world to do all that we possibly can, including by convening the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within my first 100 days in office," Biden said in a statement today.
  • Biden is also vowing aggressive new U.S. policies, though his agenda — which includes 100% carbon-free power by 2035 — faces huge hurdles, especially the long odds of moving sweeping legislation.

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