China pledges to strengthen climate plan

In a joint statement with France, the world’s biggest emitter declared an intention to upgrade its contribution to the Paris Agreement

French president Emmanuel Macron with China's Xi Jinping (Photo: Elysee)

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China has made its clearest signal yet of an intention to ramp up climate action, pledging to increase its climate targets.

The world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas, China committed to enhance its national contribution under the Paris Agreement to reflect its “highest possible ambition”.

In a statement issued with France and UN chief António Guterres on Saturday, China committed to “update” its climate target “in a manner representing a progression beyond the current one”.  It also vowed to publish a long term decarbonisation strategy by next year.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries have agreed to update their climate plans to achieve the emission reductions needed to limit global temperature rise to 2C of warming. There is growing international pressure for this to happen by 2020 and some observers believed the statement indicates China will move by next year.

“To my knowledge, China had not publicly indicated that it was planning to enhance its [climate plans] with ambition,” said David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s international climate initiative.

Waskow described the agreement between China and France as “quite significant” and a clear expression of ambition on climate action.

“That’s what the EU has not actually come forward to say,” he said.

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Li Shuo, senior climate policy officer at Greenpeace China, told Reuters that China’s commitment to update its climate targets rather than reaffirm existing ones suggests political will in Beijing to take more ambitious carbon-cutting measures.

“I think [Chinese leaders] get the idea that they need to enhance their ambition, not only for their image as international climate leaders but also for larger geopolitical reasons, such as supporting multilateralism,” he said.

In the statement, France and China also called on countries to “continue to uphold multilateralism and inject political impetus into the international cooperation on jointly fighting climate change”.

The statement was issued on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, where 19 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the Paris pact. In a separate paragraph, the US reiterated its plan to withdraw from the deal, arguing “it disadvantages American workers and taxpayers”.

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Hours later, national delegates met in Abu Dhabi in preparation for a climate action summit to be held at the UN’s New York headquarters in September.

The UN chief is convening the summit to spur greater efforts to limit global heating to 1.5C – the goal demanded by vulnerable countries.

So far, the EU has nothing to show at the summit after four eastern European countries blocked a consensus to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 at the last EU Council meeting.

This is the second time France and China have issued a joint statement on climate change at the G20. In a statement in Argentina last year, the two countries expressed their “highest political commitment” to implementing the Paris Agreement.

This article was amended. It originally said China had pledged to update its NDC before 2020.

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