Nov 12, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Why China's COP26 surprise matters

Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy use
Data: BP; Note: Shows emissions from consumption of oil, gas and coal for combustion-related activities and natural gas flaring; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

The big surprise at COP26 was China vowing more aggressive steps on climate in a joint declaration with the U.S.

Catch up fast: The Wednesday statement calls for "accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s," as well as cooperation on measurement and reductions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

Our thought bubble: A few takeaways...

  • The road to the Paris targets goes through China. The country accounts for roughly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, so its path is key to whether the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris Agreement can remain within reach.
  • But skepticism is warranted. China, despite a U.S. push, has not explicitly changed its current climate pledge, which calls for its emissions to peak at some point before 2030.
  • Overall, "there isn't much new here," Jane Nakano, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells the Washington Examiner.

It's a significant moment at COP26. The statement comes amid high U.S.-China tensions on a suite of topics including climate, where President Biden last week attacked China's absence of new commitments.

  • Bloomberg notes it "changed the mood in Glasgow" during the fraught multinational negotiations and injected "new momentum" into the talks.
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