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China’s Path to Net Zero

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent announcement that China aims to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 marks one of the most important policy initiatives of the last 40 years. Reaching this goal will require extensive collaboration between government and the private sector, animated by a heightened sense of urgency.

BEIJING – China is aiming to halt the rise in its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. If it succeeds, the country will have gone, in less than 40 years, from being the world’s largest CO2 emitter to bringing its emissions into balance.

China is far from being the only country to have declared its intention to reach net-zero CO2 emissions within that time frame – over 120 countries are actively discussing achieving that goal even sooner, by 2050 – but it is the most important one by far. In fact, President Xi Jinping’s announcement of China’s 2060 commitment at the recent United Nations General Assembly was doubly significant, given that the 2015 Paris climate agreement is being actively challenged by leaders of major governments, and undermined by inaction elsewhere, partly as a result of COVID-19.

But is China’s ambition credible? Although Xi did not elaborate in his speech on how the zero-carbon goal will be reached, China has a track record of delivering on major initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, renewables, pollution reduction, and poverty alleviation. But Xi’s carbon-neutrality pledge is on a very different scale and must be fulfilled in a different global context.

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