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Europe’s “Green China” Challenge

If, as seems likely, China commits fully to President Xi Jinping's recent pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, the implications will be far-reaching. This is particularly true for the European Union, which will have its own plans and policies both facilitated and challenged in unanticipated ways.

BERLIN – At the recent United Nations General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that his country will strive to become carbon neutral by 2060. It was a potentially highly consequential announcement, and it deserves more attention – not least from the European Union.

China produces nearly 30% of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels – about twice the share of the United States and three times that of the EU. Moreover, China’s emissions are likely to continue increasing – Xi promised only that they would peak by 2030 – whereas the EU already has plans to cut its emissions by another 30 percentage points. This means that, by 2030, China’s emissions might be 4-5 times the EU level. For this reason, China’s achievement of carbon neutrality would have a much larger climate impact than Europe’s efforts.

For the time being, a carbon-neutral China remains a vague political aspiration. The next step would be a formal commitment by China under the Paris climate agreement, followed by a clear and credible plan, with concrete milestones, for fulfilling that commitment.