It's that time of year when countries begin preparing for negotiations at the United Nations conference on climate change at the end of the year. This year, the conference will not be held due to the pandemic.
- But last week, China made an unexpected announcement that ensured that the excitement of climate change would not be lacking this season. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping made two promises that came as a welcome surprise to climate change watchers.
What has China announced?
- First, Xi said, China would become net zero carbon by 2060. Net zero is a state in which a country's emissions are offset by the absorption and removal of greenhouse gases of the atmosphere.
- Removal can be increased by creating more carbon sinks, such as forests, while removal involves the application of technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
- Second, the Chinese president announced a minor but significant change to China's already committed goal of allowing its emissions to “peak” from “by 2030” to “before 2030.”
- This means that China would not allow its greenhouse gas emissions to increase beyond that point.
- Xi didn't say how long “before 2030” means, but even that is seen as a very positive move from the world's largest emitter.
Why is net zero an important goal?
- In recent years, there has been a concerted campaign to encourage countries, especially large emitters, to commit to achieving “climate neutrality” by 2050.
- We sometimes speak of a net zero emission status that would require countries to reduce their emissions significantly, while increasing the land or forest sinks that would absorb the emissions that occur.
- If sinks are not adequate, countries can commit to implementing technologies that physically remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Most of these carbon dioxide removal technologies are yet to be tested and are extremely expensive.
- Scientists and campaign groups on climate change say that global carbon neutrality by 2050 is the only way to meet the Paris Agreement goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2 ° C compared to the time preindustrial. At the current rate of emissions, the world is heading for an increase in temperatures of 3 ° C to 4 ° C by 2100.
How important is China's commitment?
- China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It accounts for nearly 30% of global emissions, more than the combined emissions of the United States, the European Union and India, the next three largest emitters.
- Getting China to commit to a net zero target, even if it's 10 years later than most people think, is a breakthrough, especially as countries have been reluctant to make a long-term commitment. .
- So far, the European Union has been the only major emitter to commit to a net zero emissions status by 2050. More than 70 other countries have also made similar commitments, but most of them have relatively low emissions zero net emissions.
- The statute would not do much for the cause of the planet. The real heavyweights whose climate actions are crucial to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement are the Big Four (China, the United States, the European Union and India), which together account for more than half of global emissions, followed by countries like Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and Australia.
- A week earlier, South Africa had announced its intention to become carbon neutral by 2050, but other countries held back. The United States, under the administration of Donald Trump, withdrew from the Paris Agreement and does not even believe in these goals.
What is India's commitment?
- India has resisted pressure to make a long-term commitment, citing the fact that developed countries have not fully delivered on their past promises and have never kept the commitments they had previously made. India has also argued that its actions on climate change are, in relative terms, much more robust than those of developed countries.
- Until now, China had made more or less similar arguments to India. The two countries have historically played together in climate change negotiations, although huge differences in their emissions and state of development have emerged in the last two decades.
- Therefore, China's decision is a huge boost to the success of the Paris Agreement. According to Climate Action Tracker, a global group that provides scientific analysis of the actions countries are taking, the Chinese target, if met, would reduce global warming projections by 2100 by about 0.2 ° to 0.3°C, the biggest action. shocking never caught. for any country.
So what are the implications of China's engagement with India?
- Naturally, the Chinese announcement is expected to increase pressure on India to follow suit and accept a long-term commitment, even if that was not exactly the net zero target for 2050. C ‘is something that is unlikely to be make India.
- This is the wrong type of request that comes to us. In fact, if you look at the promises that were made in the Paris Agreement, India is the only G20 country whose actions are on track to achieve the second goal.
- The other developed countries must, in fact, make efforts to achieve a 1.5 ° world, but they are not even doing enough to reach the 2 ° target. So yes, there would be more pressure and we will have to deal with that.
- Earlier this year, India was in the process of formulating a long-term climate policy for itself, but that effort appears to have been shelved for now.
- Another side effect of the Chinese decision could be a greater divergence in the positions of India and China in the climate negotiations. China may have less reason to align itself with India as a developing country.