Did China just over-commit in the name of Climate Action?

International Oct 16, 2020

On 22nd September, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced China’s goals to hit peak emissions before 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2060. This unexpected announcement made to the UN General Assembly via videolink was touted by climate policy watchdogs, analysts, researchers, and global citizens as a pathbreaking initiative to limit global climate change to tolerable levels. This came as a welcome surprise to many, as China’s climate action had been rather sedentary owing to the economic slowdown and the USA’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement under President Trump.

What are these goals?

Before getting down to the task of discussing the feasibility of these goals, we must learn what these goals actually mean. In the simplest terms, “peak emissions” implies not allowing the use and growth of carbon-heavy fossil fuels like coal, whereas “carbon neutrality” or “net-zero carbon emissions” refers to the stage in which a country would have to compensate for its emissions either by absorption or removal of the greenhouse gases.

So, China aspires to disallow the growth of fossil fuels beyond 2030 and subsequently the elimination of emissions that are already there in the atmosphere.

Importance of China’s commitment

China has often been on the radar of public scrutiny for being the world’s largest polluter, accounting for approximately 28% of the global emissions, more than the combined emissions of the three next biggest emitters, i.e. USA, European Union, India. So, such a long-term commitment by China should be lauded.

Climate Action Tracker, an online portal run by researchers that provides a scientific perspective to all climate policies, estimated the great impact of the recent Chinese climate commitment. According to the researchers, if China is successful in implementing its aims, it could lower global warming projections for 2100 by 0.2 - 0.3℃. At the current rate of carbon emissions, our planet could warm up by 3-4℃ by 2100, which could have catastrophic consequences.


Being a highly carbon-reliant economy, with 58% of its energy demands and 60% of its electricity demands being satisfied by coal, a transition to cleaner and renewable alternatives of energy would be a Herculean task for China. China’s coal capacity also grew from 40 gigawatts to 1050 gigawatts in 2019, with a 100 gigawatts still under construction by lobbyists.

Many people have even attributed China’s ambitious climate action plans to maintain its geopolitical position, owing to the USA’s absence in the Paris Agreement convention.

If China pursues its goals, it could be a great turning point in the battle to protect our planet from heating up and ensure speedy mitigation.

This article has been written by Ishaan Singh for The Paradigm

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