23 September, 2020

China going carbon neutral before 2060 would lower warming projections by around 0.2 to 0.3 degrees 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.

The announcement by President Xi Jinping at the UN General Assembly yesterday – 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 CO2 emissions by mid-century.

“This is most important announcement on global climate policy in at least the last five years,” said Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, one of the CAT’s two partner organisations.

“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.”

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,” said Climate Analytics CEO Bill Hare. “If China and the EU – which together account for 33% 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.”

“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%) 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.

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% of global emissions, with China contributing 25%.

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 (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).”

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.

In a briefing being released today, the CAT has analysed 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.

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