China has published its long-awaited national plan on greenhouse gas emissions, a few days before the opening of the UN Cop26 on the climate.
But the plan revealed Thursday represents little progress on China’s previously announced ambitions, disappointing observers of vital climate talks.
Emissions would peak by 2030 and be reduced to net zero three decades later, according to the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the UN.
This is widely seen as too late to ensure the world limits global warming to 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels, which is the key goal of the talks.
It’s also a lot less than many analysts say China could easily handle. With its huge investments in renewables in recent years, China has already made substantial changes to its high-carbon economy, and falling prices for low-carbon technologies should make the transition even easier, bringing many analysts conclude that China could, with not much extra effort, peak its emissions around 2025.
China had missed several submission deadlines during Cop26’s one-year delay due to the pandemic, but it was hoped its new plan could gain momentum ahead of the summit.
High-level sources at the talks have previously said that “China likes to under-promise and over-deliver,” but the cautious estimate of future emissions reduction efforts will not encourage diplomats hoping for a breakthrough from the biggest emitter. of the world.
Hosts UK and other major nations in the talks seeking a Glasgow deal will now be left with the problem of how to close the substantial gap between the likely emission reductions resulting from all NDCs so far and the reductions. of 45% scientists say it takes emissions by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, to keep heating within 1.5 ° C.
One way, mentioned by the UN secretary-general earlier this week, is to force countries to return to the negotiating table every year to reconsider their commitments, which would be unpopular for many.
China could also soften its stance by pledging to reduce its dependence on coal, increase its low-carbon investments abroad, or strengthen other plans such as promoting carbon sinks.
Belinda Schäpe, from the E3G think tank, said: “China’s updated NDC reflects the goals announced by Xi Jinping at the Climate Action Summit in December 2020. While these goals are not new, they represent a step forward. against China’s 2015 targets.
“However, things have changed over the past year. The recent “code red warning” by the IPCC puts China’s goals in a different light, and China’s heightened ambition is crucial to keeping global warming below dangerous levels. China could still make great contributions to the G20 and Cop26 table by supporting political commitment to keep 1.5C within reach and clarifying the role of coal in its power system.
Yan Qin, senior analyst at financial analyst group Refinitiv, said: “The NDC update is disappointing, but not unexpected… The current energy crisis in Chinese provinces is also shadowing climate policy in China. senior leaders busy taking action to ensure energy security.
“After the official submission of the NDC, we may not see China announce further strengthened climate targets during Cop26, but we can anticipate the details, roadmaps or policy approaches to achieve peak emissions. and carbon neutrality published before or during Cop26. And it remains to be seen how China responds to other key issues that remain to be resolved during Cop26, including transparency requirements, carbon offsets in carbon markets, and climate finance. “
Li Shuo of Greenpeace said, “China’s decision on its NDC casts a shadow over the global climate effort. In light of domestic economic uncertainties, the country seems reluctant to adopt stronger short-term goals and has missed an opportunity to show ambition.
“The planet cannot afford to be the last word. Beijing must come up with stronger implementation plans to ensure peak emissions before 2025. “
Bernice Lee, Futures Research Director at Chatham House, said, “We can’t water it down. It is disappointing and offbeat and does not fit the world’s largest transmitter. This is symptomatic of a larger trend / deficit where major economies are not making the kind of cuts needed to get 1.5C on hand just yet. China fell short of its target and missed a chance to be recognized as a world leader. The plan says emissions will peak before 2030 – for the sake of all of us, we need that date to be much sooner. “