Experts praise China’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060—but more could be done

September 24, 2020, 10:27 AM UTC

Monday saw the launch of Climate Week in New York—an annual network of environment-minded events, hosted across the city in the week that coincides with the UN general assembly. This year, with the pandemic still raging, Climate Week and the UN have both gone virtual.

So far the highlight has been President Xi Jinping’s “pledge” that China will be a net-zero carbon emitter by 2060. Globally, the commitment has been well received by climate advocates. The timing of Xi’s pledge, too—minutes after President Donald Trump reaffirmed his disdain for the Paris Agreement—has potentially established China as the new political leader in the fight on climate change.

Today, I thought I’d share some more reactions (and my comments) to Xi’s announcement:

“With this announcement, the world’s largest carbon emitter finally shifted from its long-term position of having limited responsibility to reduce global emissions as a developing country, to assuming clearer leadership in tackling climate change.” – Alex Whitworth, research director, Wood Mackenzie

Beijing’s target of achieving carbon neutrality “before 2060” still identifies China—the world’s second largest economy—as a “developing nation,” however. Under the Paris Agreement, developed nations are supposed to target net-zero by 2050. By maintaining status as a developing nation, China ekes extra benefits out of the WTO.

“This target goes beyond its current commitment and will eventually make a big difference to future warming levels. However, its near term target of peaking emissions before 2030 is unaltered and it is this near term ambition that counts…. Why does it need to increase emissions from today? I cannot see a compelling economic, environmental or social reason for doing so.” – Piers Forster, professor of climate change, University of Leeds

How China will achieve its new goal will likely be set out in Beijing’s next five year plan, due in March. Until then, policy and practice is unlikely to change. China’s post-pandemic recovery, for instance, is being primarily fueled by coal.

“This announcement is an important step toward the world meeting the goals in the Paris Agreement. The Chinese government has a capacity for long-term planning far beyond that of most governments.” – David Sandalow, China Energy and Climate Program, Center on Global Energy Policy

Chinese presidents typically serve for ten-year terms, during which time the government passes two five-year plans, so there is some greater stability to Chinese policy planning than in a shorter-term democratic system. Perhaps even more so under Xi Jinping, since Xi removed the limit on how long a President can serve for in 2018.

“With China’s economic power, the benefits in technological progress that come with such an endeavor will undoubtedly spill over to other parts of the world.” – Dr. Joeri Rogelj, lecturer in climate change and the environment, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London

China is currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the No. 1 consumer of coal. But the country is also the primary market for and provider of renewable energy tech. Yesterday, I wrote how China’s edge in green energy might incentivize it to turn away from fossil fuels.

The global transition to net zero could see China emerge as a new powerhouse for green energy. As evidenced by Xi’s speech, Beijing is already angling to be the new political leader of the greener future.

More below,

Eamon Barrett


On fumes

California will phase out sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035, making it the first U.S. state to set a date for eliminating petrol car sales. The deadline was set by an executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. California already accounts for roughly half of the U.S. market for electric cars, with 34 electric vehicle makers operating in the state. The executive order doesn’t say cars post-2035 must be electric—only that they be zero carbon emission.

Walmart target

Walmart is targeting zero emissions for its global operations by 2040 and aims to power its facilities with 100% renewable energy by 2035. The retailer’s zero emissions target only applies to its own operations—known as Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions are those from a company’s suppliers, distributors and broader “value chain.” For Walmart, over 90% of its emissions are Scope 3.


Public artwork Metronome—a giant digital clock facing Union Square in Manhattan—has been recalibrated. Before, it told the time by counting down to midnight, now it is counting down to when a critical window for mitigating the worst effects of climate change closes—just a little over seven years away. Sadly, the countdown is only commissioned until Sept. 27.


FTS International, a fracking-services company based in Texas, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following a downturn in the U.S. market. With demand for oil and gas dented by the pandemic and oil prices deflated by the Russia-Saudi Arabia price war, drilling in the U.S. has plummeted. Under its filing, FTS will swap $440 million in debt for the majority of its equity.


The world’s largest meat packing company, Brazil-based JBS, has long faced criticism that its suppliers are providing meat from cattle reared on illegal ranches—the kind that are devastating the Amazon rainforest. After much inaction, JBS announced Wednesday that it is turning to blockchain technology in order to track cattle from farm to factory.


After the boom: Canada’s oil capital faces an uncertain future by Katherine Dunn

Can emissions cuts and economic growth coexist? Europe is certain they can by David Meyer

Check out Airbus’s concepts for the world’s first ‘zero-emission commercial aircraft’ by David Meyer

Allbirds is stepping up for the planet—by treading lightly on it by Sheila Marikar



With more than two months left in this year’s Atlantic storm season, there are only four names remaining on the list of 21 monikers used for identifying hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center rotates six sets of 21 names to identify storms, doling them out in alphabetical order. But 2020’s storm season has been far more active than normal. If a fifth storm strikes between now and November 30, the center will have to switch to the Greek alphabet to name it—something that has only happened once before, in 2005.


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