'Questions remain' over China’s carbon neutrality pledge

Chinese premier Xi Jinping told the UN General Assembly that the world's top emitter plans to reduce its carbon emissions from 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060

Chinese premier Xi Jinping addressing the UN General Assembly (pic credit: CGTN)
Chinese premier Xi Jinping addressing the UN General Assembly (pic credit: CGTN)

The world’s top emitter aims to achieve peak carbon emissions by 2030, and then carbon neutrality by 2060, according to its premier, Xi Jinping.

China will scale up its nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Climate Agreement by adopting “more vigorous policies and measures” to help meet climate targets, Xi told the UN. 

However, he did not provide further details of how China would reduce its footprint, or define ‘carbon neutrality’.

The country is due to unveil its 14th five-year plan – a regular, medium-term blueprint for national economic and social development – later this year.

Energy analysts said it was “almost certain” that investments in wind, solar and other renewables would feature in this document.

Meanwhile, all countries are due to put out a stronger NDC this year ahead of next year’s delayed COP 26 summit, providing a blueprint for how they can help limit global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels.

China accounted for 28% of global carbon emissions in 2018, and emitted nearly twice as much (10.06Gt) as the second top emitter, the US (5.41Gt), International Energy Agency (IEA) data shows.

Snap analysis by Climate Action Tracker suggested China hitting its carbon neutrality target by 2060 could reduce global warming projects by around 0.2-0.3C.

It had 220GW of wind power capacity installed as of 1 September, according to Windpower Intelligence, the research and data division of Windpower Monthly.


Wood Mackenzie’s vice chair for Asia Pacific, Gavin Thompson, said “big questions remain” about yesterday’s announcement, including how Xi defines ‘carbon neutrality’ and how China plans to reach that goal.

He added: “China’s upcoming 14th five-year plan has the potential to be the most important document in global energy market history. 

“Increased investment in wind, solar, electric vehicle and battery storage technology deployment will almost certainly feature, and we can expect support for green hydrogen and carbon capture technology. 

“It won’t, of course, be the complete roadmap, and I expect clean coal will continue to receive strong support.” 

Meanwhile, analysts at investment consultants Industrial Securities Co recently speculated that the upcoming five-year plan could call for 36-45GW of wind power capacity and 80-115GW of solar PV to be added annually between 2021 and 2025.

Greenpeace’s chief representative for China, Li Yan, described Xi’s announcement as a “very positive signal during a challenging year for the environment and global cooperation’.

However, she said more clarity was needed on how China would reach carbon neutrality, and added: “How China’s commitment plays out on the ground is key. Will we see greater investment in low-carbon industries as part of the Covid-19 economic recovery? How soon can China leave coal behind, and can the country’s renewables industry maintain its momentum? These are the follow-up questions that we need to ask. 

“Meeting these goals requires a low-carbon transition across the entire economy, including in transport, manufacturing, agriculture and consumption, not only in the energy sector.”

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles
and free email bulletins.

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in