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China surprises with ‘net zero by 2060’ announcement

Chinese President Xi Jinping (above), in a surprise announcement yesterday, told the United Nations General Assembly via video that China would achieve a peak in carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. This will require a radical reshaping of the Chinese economy.

China’s surprise

This is huge: It’s the first time the world’s biggest emitter of CO2 — 28% of global emissions — has pledged to end its net contribution to climate change. Xi made the announcement immediately after Donald Trump called the Paris Agreement “a one-sided deal and criticized China for being the world’s largest source of carbon emissions,” according to Reuters.

Xi said:

China will scale up its intended nationally determined contributions [under the Paris climate agreement] by adopting more vigorous policies and measures.

The human race cannot ignore the warnings of nature over and over again.

He urged all countries to pursue a “green recovery of the world economy in the post-COVID era.”

Li Shuo, an energy policy officer at Greenpeace in Beijing, said [via the Financial Times]:

Xi’s pledge will need to be backed up with more details and concrete implementation. How much earlier can China peak its emissions? How can we reconcile carbon neutrality with China’s ongoing coal expansion?

We would need to completely transform every single aspect of our economy and our life in this country [to meet the target].

The Paris Agreement pledges to limit global warming to less than 2C and allows countries to set their own targets for emissions reduction. Countries are expected to announce new climate pledges at the UN climate summit, COP26 in Glasgow, which has been delayed to 2021 due to the pandemic.

The US, which produces the second-highest emissions in the world behind China, is now the biggest emitter in the world that does not have a carbon-neutral target. It has no formal plan to cut emissions, and Trump intends to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement on November 4. So that leaves the US in a solo position.

A further eight states have signed but not ratified the Paris Agreement. They are Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen.

Electrek’s Take

“Yeah, but what about China?” is the question always posed about the world’s largest emitter. Well, now we know. The year 2060 is far from ideal, but it’s still a big step forward.

It was also probably a political move to antagonize Trump. Xi’s announcement timing, right after Trump’s criticism of China, probably wasn’t a coincidence. Trump said: “Those who attack America’s exceptional environmental record while ignoring China’s rapid pollution, are not interested in the environment.” And then Xi followed with his big announcement.

And while the world’s largest green energy and electric vehicle market — yes, China — still has a very long way to go to get off fossil fuels, including coal, a public commitment to net zero is always a positive thing.

We look forward to learning about the details, and hope that China sets an even more ambitious target.

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.