China has released a long-awaited greenhouse gas emissions plan that shows only modest progress from its original Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris agreement, and is feeding disappointment among observers gathering in Glasgow for the opening of the UN climate conference, COP 26, this Sunday.
“China’s decision on its NDC casts a shadow on the global climate effort,” said Li Shuo, senior climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace East Asia.
“In light of the domestic economic uncertainties, the country appears hesitant to embrace stronger near-term targets, and missed an opportunity to demonstrate ambition,” he added. “The planet cannot afford this being the last word. Beijing needs to come up with stronger implementation plans to ensure an emission peak before 2025.”
Under China’s official filing with the United Nations climate secretariat, just days before the COP, “emissions would peak by 2030 and be reduced to net-zero three decades later,” The Guardian reports. “This is widely regarded as too late to ensure the world limits global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, which is the key aim of the talks.”
The updated NDC confirms China’s intention to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, cut its emissions per unit of economic output by more than 65%, boost non-fossil energy from 20 to 25% as a share of its primary energy consumption, and increase its reforestation target from 4.5 to six billion cubic metres. It aims for 1,200 gigawatts of installed solar and wind capacity by 2030.
“However, the reaction among analysts was that the new climate plan is disappointingly short of fresh details,” The Guardian writes. “The main targets of the updated NDC were announced last year by China’s president, Xi Jinping, and are insufficient to keep the world on course to hold global heating to no more than 1.5°C.”
But the world has changed since, said Belinda Schäpe, EU-China climate diplomacy researcher with the E3G climate consultancy.
“The recent ‘code red warning’ by the IPCC puts China’s targets into a different light, and increased ambition from China is crucial to keeping global warming below dangerous levels,” she told The Guardian. “China could still bring large contributions to the table at G20 and COP 26 by supporting a political commitment to keep 1.5°C within reach and clarifying the role of coal in its power system.”
While some analysts said it was significant that China had put its previous climate commitments in writing, its new NDC is “far less than many analysts say China could easily manage,” The Guardian explains. “With its huge investments in renewable energy in recent years, the country has already made substantial changes to its high-carbon economy, and the plunging price of low-carbon technology should make the transition even easier, leading many analysts to conclude that China could, with not much extra effort, cause its emissions to peak in about 2025.”
“Our analysis shows that China can step up its efforts to reducing emissions while also enjoying economic growth and a more sustainable environment,” said Helen Mountford, vice-president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute.
That kind of assessment will make China a focal point for “sustained diplomatic efforts” at this weekend’s G20 summit in Rome and the COP that begins immediately afterwards, The Guardian says, and the tone in the negotiating rooms will be crucial.
“The key will be whether China engages constructively,” one insider told the paper. “The mood has not been depressed by China’s NDC, but there had been hope of [China showing] more leadership, particularly from small developing countries who look to China for that.”