China stakes claim as climate leader

Xi renews his support for the Paris climate accord and called for a green focus as the world recovers from the Covid-19 crisis

BEIJING • The US is guilty of “obstructing” the global fight against emissions, China said yesterday, as Beijing seized the climate agenda by vowing to go carbon neutral by 2060 — a target welcomed by environmentalists despite its patchy detail.

The goals, which include a pledge to reach peak emissions in 2030, are still the most concrete yet announced by China, which is the world’s biggest polluter and accounts for a quarter of the planet’s greenhouse gas blamed for rising temperatures.

They also open a new divergence in relations with the US, which are already pinched by squabbles over trade, tech, defence and human rights.

Speaking to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday renewed his support for the Paris climate accord and called for a green focus as the world recovers from the Covid-19 crisis.

Under President Donald Trump, the US — the world’s second-largest polluter — pulled out of the agreement, blaming China for the stalled momentum on tackling global emissions.

“This clearly…seriously obstructs the progress of reducing global emissions and promoting green, low-carbon development,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a statement yesterday.

“What qualifications does such a country have to criticise China,” he asked, citing America’s hunger for plastics and its export of waste.

In his speech to the UN, Xi set China out as a climate leader, saying the Paris accord “outlines the minimum steps to be taken to protect the Earth, our shared homeland, and all countries must take decisive steps to honour this agreement”.

China aims to have “C02 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”, Xi said.

‘Nuanced picture’

In addition to its embrace of global emissions-busting deals, China already feeds nearly 15% of its energy demands with non-fossil fuels, spokesman Wang added.

China’s “installation of renewable energy stands at 30% of the world total”, he said.

But experts say the picture is more nuanced, with massive investments continuing at home and overseas in coal and other fossil fuels.

China currently has 135GW of coal-power capacity either permitted or under construction, according to Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based environmental group.

That equates to about half the total coal-power capacity in the US. The Paris climate deal commits nations to limit global temperature rises to near pre-industrial levels through a rapid and sweeping drawdown of greenhouse gas emissions.

Less Ambitious Objective

Welcoming China’s pledge with a Tweet, European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen still cautioned “a lot of work remains to be done”.

The 2060 objective is still a decade later than the date set by dozens of small states, as well as Euro-pean powers. But it was roundly applauded by experts as a significant step to inject momentum into the flatlining Paris accords.

The “devil will be in the details” said Helen Mountford, VP for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute in Washington.

Others questioned whether China would follow its own guidelines as it pursues a global infrastructure-building binge — for example, if it will still back coal plants in Africa.

Trump on Attack

Trump says he is standing up for US constituencies such as coal miners and has loosened environmental rules, although individual US states such as California have insisted on fighting climate change on their own.

“Those who attack America’s exceptional environmental record while ignoring China’s rampant pollution are not interested in the environment,” Trump said in a UN speech shortly before Xi spoke.

The future of the Paris accord will be partly determined on Nov 3 as Trump runs for re-election against Joe Biden, who has pledged to return the US to the agreement and move toward carbon neutrality by 2050. — AFP