by D. Normile, Sep 29, 2020 in Science AAAS
China’s surprise pledge last week to cut its net carbon emissions to zero within 40 years has reignited hopes of limiting global climate change to tolerable levels. The country is the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for 28% of global emissions, and its move may inspire other countries to follow suit. But observers warn that China faces daunting challenges in reaching its goals. Kicking its coal habit will be particularly hard.
“We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly via a video link on 22 September. That’s “a very significant and encouraging announcement,” says Josep Canadell, an earth system scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. He says the new targets “won’t likely let us to stop at 1.5° Celsius [of global warming],” the preferred target set in the 2015 Paris agreement. “But below 2° might still be consistent with [Xi’s] announcement.” China’s commitment also “ratchets up pressure on other major emitters” to set more ambitious targets “while further isolating the Trump administration in its climate myopia,” Vance Wagner of Energy Foundation China wrote in a piece published online by the nonprofit China Dialogue.
China had previously said its CO2 emissions would peak “around” 2030, a target most analysts considered within reach. But achieving carbon neutrality before 2060 will require drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels in transportation and electricity generation and offsetting any remaining emissions through carbon capture and storage or planting forests.