Given that global emissions are still rising — despite the pandemic-related slowdown, and the inadequacy of Paris climate accord pledges — China’s announcement was widely welcomed as the most important commitment since the Paris agreement in the push to carbon neutrality by mid-century. “It’s like steroids in the move to decarbonisation,” said Niklas Hagelberg, coordinator of the Climate Change Programme at the United Nations Environment Programme, of the pledge from the world’s largest carbon emitter.
World energy emissions alone are expected to drop if China, the world’s largest energy consuming economy, decarbonises. Even without any further commitments from other countries, global heating could now be limited to around 2.35 degrees celsius by 2100, which is 0.25C lower than the expected rise according to Hector Pollitt, Chief Economist at Cambridge Econometrics, a UK-based economic analysis firm.
In the wake of Beijing’s commitment, neighbouring countries followed suit, with Japan committing to net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and South Korea to carbon neutrality by 2050 in the ensuing weeks — the three Asian economies accounted for one-third of all global carbon emissions in 2018, according to Greenpeace. Factoring in these new commitments, Pollitt calculates that warming could be kept to around 2 degrees by century’s end the upper limit of the Paris climate agreement.
Now, the climate community is waiting expectantly for the Chinese government to consolidate its commitment in its latest 5-year plan, which is expected to be announced in early April. While many countries were due to enhance their Paris pledges in 2020, few expected that China, with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, would commit to carbon neutrality in such a relatively short time-frame. “It’s fair to say, it’s pretty ambitious,” said Pollitt, especially with China’s emissions rising 2% in 2019 alone. “But it’s necessary if global targets are to be met,” he added.
Christine Loh, chief development strategist at the Institute for the Environment at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, says the decarbonisation target “did not come out of the blue.”
Rather it confirms China’s paradigm shift from polluted “factory of the world” to clean, green producer of homegrown high tech goods, and the world’s biggest market for electric vehicles.
“Climate change has been important for a very long time in China,” the former Hong Kong legislator said of Beijing’s central role in creating global climate targets over the last decade, including at Paris. Perhaps most unexpected is the promise to reach peak emissions before 2030. “Without China, the rest of the world will struggle to peak,” said Pollitt.
UNEP’s Niklas Hagelberg fears this tipping point will come too late if the world is to achieve a 50% emissions cut by 2030 — a fundamental target on the road to 2050 decarbonisation. That means China’s emissions will have to begin falling by 2025, otherwise, “it won’t be sufficient to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 or ‘60,” he said.
Yet Hagelberg believes this could be possible if China shows the political will to rapidly shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. According to Pollitt, carbon neutrality by 2060 requires that no new coal power plants are built.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle