Oct 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

China declines to speed emissions cuts in new UN pledge

A view of the skyscrapers in the haze in Shanghai, China, in December 2020.

A view of the skyscrapers in the haze in Shanghai, China, in December 2020. Photo: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Chinese leaders are sticking with a prior target to bring the country's carbon emissions to a peak before 2030, according to documents filed with the United Nations Thursday under the Paris climate agreement.

Why it matters: The new documents come just days ahead of the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow. China is by far the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, and its emissions path is key to whether the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris agreement can remain within reach.

  • It's likely a disappointment to advocates hoping for a stronger pledge ahead of the key UN climate summit, which opens Sunday.

Driving the news: China on Thursday submitted its latest "nationally determined contribution" that affirms plans to have emissions peak before 2030, a target President Xi Jinping unveiled in 2020.

  • The document formalizes that target, replacing their prior submission a half-decade ago that targeted a peak "around" 2030 but with efforts to achieve it sooner. It also includes Xi's 2020 pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2060.
  • "China attaches high importance to addressing climate change," it states, and notes, "achieve sustainable development at home, as well as to fulfill its due obligation to build a community with a shared future for mankind."
  • However, it also emphasizes that China is a developing nation and that the historic build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has come "especially" from the "large-scale fossil fuel consumption of developed countries."

What they're saying: "China's decision casts a shadow on the global climate effort. In light of the domestic economic uncertainties, the country appears hesitant to embrace stronger near term targets, and missed an opportunity to demonstrate ambition," said Li Shuo, a China expert with Greenpeace.

  • However, Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air cautioned on Twitter that asking "China to pledge something 'new' because the 2030/2060 targets are 'old news' is not fair.
  • "Announcing these targets early helped create momentum. Criticize the lack of ambition out to 2030/35 but not lack of 'new' targets as such," he tweeted.

Go deeper: What to know about COP26 in Glasgow

Axios' Andrew Freedman contributed to this story.

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