(Arête News) — Sharpening his differences with U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday that his nation — the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases — plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Xi called for a “green revolution” in his address to world leaders at the United Nations’ annual high-level forum, usually held at the world body’s headquarters in New York, but carried out this year in a virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature,” he said, referring to the pandemic that has infected more than 31.4 million people and killed 966,000, including 200,000 in the United States alone. “We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”
Despite China’s heavy reliance on carbon-emitting coal to produce electricity, Xi promised “vigorous policies and measures” to achieve net zero carbon emissions in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change that his nation had championed alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and former U.S. President Barack Obama.
Part of China’s calculus is to position itself as an expansive world power concerned with global climate crises, in further contrast to the “America First” policies under Trump, who considers climate change a hoax and has regularly campaigned against energy efficient products.
The Trump administration has notified the United Nations of its intention to exit the Paris accord that committed the world to preventing average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.
Big news: President Xi just announced in his #UNGA speech that China will peak CO2 emissions *before* 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality *before* 2060. The choice of words is important and positive. This confirms what Xie Zhenhua told an @AsiaPolicy event with @MrKRudd yesterday. pic.twitter.com/vFToz2bWaO
— Thom Woodroofe (@thomwoodroofe) September 22, 2020
A U-turn on coal
To achieve net neutrality, China, responsible for 28 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, would need to make vast and costly investments in a mixture of renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and hydropower, and probably use more nuclear power.
China would also need to drastically cut reliance on coal-fired powered plants; coal accounts for more than half of China’s total energy consumption and two-thirds of its electricity generation, according to energy use experts.
A year ago, 40 percent of the United Nations’ 193 member nations committed their governments to the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, and nearly the same amount vowed to take greater action to fight global warming by 2020.
Those promises to strengthen commitments under the Paris accord and to transform the business sector towards more sustainable and cleaner energy sources coincided with a daylong U.N. Climate Action Summit in 2019 organized by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
Then last December, the European Union’s executive body launched ambitious plans to create “the first climate-neutral continent by 2050,” a three-decade blueprint to sustainably overhaul Europe’s trade, industry and politics.
The European Commission said its European Green Deal would aim to improve people’s well-being through natural habitat protections and climate neutrality — net zero emissions of greenhouse gases.