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China going carbon neutral before 2060 would lower warming projections by around 0.2 to 0.3°C

If China were to achieve its announced goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060, it would lower global warming projections by around 0.2 to 0.3°C, the biggest single reduction ever estimated by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT).

If China were to achieve its announced goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060, it would lower global warming projections by around 0.2 to 0.3°C, the biggest single reduction ever estimated by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT).

The announcement by President Xi Jinping at the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2020 –  that China will “aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060” – is a true milestone in international climate policy. It is the first time that China has acknowledged the need to reach zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by mid-century.

This is the most important announcement on global climate policy in at least the last five years. This would mean that China, responsible for a quarter of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions, would phase out any conventional use of coal, oil, and gas by the middle of the century, unthinkable a few years ago, remarked Niklas Höhne of New Climate Institute, one of the CAT’s two partner organisations.

If China were to submit the carbon neutrality pledge as a commitment under the Paris Agreement, it would affect the CAT temperature estimate of the aggregated national “pledges and targets” by around 0.2 to 0.3°C – the biggest dip in the CAT’s warming projections since 2015 after the EU and China had submitted their first indicative targets to the Agreement.

Assuming full implementation of the Paris Agreement “pledges and targets”, without the new China announcement, the CAT estimates global temperature increase will be 2.7°C by 2100. The Chinese announcement would lower the warming to around 2.4 to 2.5°C, closer to the 1.5˚C warming limit of the Paris Agreement.

China’s critically important announcement comes at a time when the EU is also ramping up its climate action, aiming for a more ambitious 2030 target, and climate neutrality by 2050. If China and the EU – which together account for 33 percent of global GHG emissions – were both to officially submit these new steps to the Paris Agreement, this would create the much-needed positive momentum the world, and the climate, needs, said Bill Hare, CEO, Climate Analytics.

With both the EU and China’s commitments, this brings the number countries with similar carbon or climate neutrality announcements to a total of 126, together responsible for around 51 percent of global emissions, with China contributing 25 percent.

And if Joe Biden wins the US election, this would mean the world’s top three emitters, China, the US, and the EU, accounting for nearly half (45 percent) of global emissions, would all have net-zero by mid-century targets, placing the 1.5˚C warming limit of the Paris Agreement firmly in reach, said Hare.

The CAT noted that the goal of “before 2060” was not soon enough to keep warming to 1.5˚C, where global CO2 needs to be at net-zero by 2050 according to the IPCC special report on 1.5°C.

However, a commitment to carbon neutrality from China is very welcome as it requires a rethink of all infrastructure investments that will last for decades. This thinking would need to also extend to the climate impact of such investments under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Hare noted.

China’s short-term emissions trajectory towards carbon neutrality is also important. The CAT’s latest analysis of the nation’s climate action shows that it is already set to overachieve its 2030 target. China has significant room to update its 2030 target and submit it to the Paris Agreement.

The CAT has also analyzed the post-COVID-19 economic recovery packages of five countries, including China.

It’s clear that China needs to re-examine its economic recovery and aim it at more low-carbon projects if it wants to reach the carbon neutrality goal before 2060, said Höhne.

About Climate Action Tracker

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement aim of “holding warming well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.” A collaboration of two organisations, Climate Analytics and New Climate Institute, the CAT has been providing this independent analysis to policymakers since 2009. CAT receives support from the ClimateWorks Foundation, the European Climate Foundation, and the German Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) via the International Climate Initiative.

CAT quantifies and evaluates climate change mitigation commitments, and assesses, whether countries are on track to meeting those. It then aggregates country action to the global level, determining the likely temperature increase by the end of the century. CAT also develops sectoral analysis to illustrate the required pathways for meeting the global temperature goals. CAT covers all the biggest emitters and a representative sample of smaller emitters covering about 80 percent of global emissions and approximately 70 percent of the global population.

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