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China’s empty promises over carbon


THE BBC’s environment correspondent Matt McGrath reports: ‘China will aim to hit [carbon dioxide] peak emissions before 2030 and for carbon neutrality by 2060, President Xi Jinping has announced.’ 

He hails it thus: ‘The announcement is being seen as a significant step in the fight against climate change.’

Mr Xi made his announcement via videolink to the UN General Assembly in New York, minutes after President Donald Trump’s address in which he strongly criticised China over the coronavirus and over its environmental record. The President said:

‘China dumps millions and millions of tons of plastic and trash into the oceans, overfishes other countries’ waters, destroys vast swaths of coral reef, and emits more toxic mercury into the atmosphere than any country anywhere in the world. China’s carbon emissions are nearly twice what the U.S. has, and it’s rising fast. By contrast, after I withdrew from the one-sided Paris Climate Accord, last year America reduced its carbon emissions by more than any country in the agreement.

‘Those who attack America’s exceptional environmental record while ignoring China’s rampant pollution are not interested in the environment. They only want to punish America, and I will not stand for it.’

So what do we make of this? I suppose the first point is that ‘pledges’ from dictatorships such as China are in essence worthless. Indeed, it is not even a pledge, only an ‘aim’.

Xi won’t be around for ever, and his successor may well tear up any pledges made, or policies enacted. Indeed, this is the way China’s Communist Party works – all of the failures will be blamed on the hapless Xi in due course, and his policies purged.

Beyond that, Xi’s pledge contains no actual proposals or specific targets. He promises that emissions will peak before 2030, but I cannot see any difference between that and his Paris pledge that they will peak by 2030 at the latest’.

There is no commitment about the level they will peak at. Nor are there any targets quantifying when and how much subsequent cuts in emissions will be.

Finally, we should be extremely suspicious about the use of the term ‘climate neutrality’. If the Chinese were really serious, they would simply promise to cut emissions to zero.

Climate neutrality can mean that they will offset emissions by land use changes, planting more trees and so on. However, such offsets are notoriously difficult to monitor and measure, and therefore would be meaningless.

Alternatively, China may obtain carbon offsets from abroad. Again, as we have already seen, these too are often worthless. Given China’s increasing economic imperialism, it is not difficult to see it  buying up offsets cheaply, maybe in lieu of debts.

The Climate Action Tracker website gives a more realistic assessment than gullible Matt McGrath, and rates it ‘Highly Insufficient’. It, too, complains that there is no detail in Xi’s announcement, and points out that China is continuing to ramp up the use of coal:

‘China has rolled back policies restricting new coal plant permitting in each of the last three yearsBy mid-2020 China had permitted more new coal plant capacity than in 2018 and 2019 combined, bringing its total coal capacity in the pipeline to 250 GW, and brought 10 GW of new plants online. China is going against the global shift away from coal and now possesses roughly half of the world’s coal power capacity as well as coal-fired power plants in development.

‘China is the world’s largest financier and builder of both fossil fuel and renewables infrastructure worldwide. Of all coal-fired plants under development outside of China, one quarter, or 102 GW of capacity, have involved funding from Chinese financial institutions and/or companies.’

The motivation behind Xi’s statement, and indeed its timing, are clear. It is intended for foreign consumption. Already it appears to be encouraging the idiots in Brussels to keep pursuing their economically ruinous climate agenda, which of course is in China’s interest. It is already being swallowed whole by the likes of Matt McGrath.

I believe the speech was really aimed at the US. China is coming under increasing pressure over not only its trade policies, but also human rights abuses, aggression in the South China Sea, and threats to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Under Obama, they were given free rein, as he was so keen to get them on board for the Paris Agreement.

Trump of course has no such compunction. However, a compliant Biden presidency, desperate for Chinese concessions on climate, would almost certainly capitulate to China once again, in return for a few meaningless climate promises.

One of the most powerful arguments against Biden’s New Green Deal is that China’s emissions are still rising rapidly.

Xi’s latest speech is a crude attempt to influence the upcoming US election.

A version of this article first appeared on Not a Lot of People Know That on September 22, 2020, and is republished by kind permission.

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Paul Homewood
Paul Homewood
Paul Homewood is a former accountant who blogs about climate change at Not a Lot of People Know That

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