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China offers few new climate targets ahead of U.N. conference

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 28, 2021

In this Wednesday, April 21, 2021 photo, smoke and steam rise from towers at the coal-fired Urumqi Thermal Power Plant in Urumqi in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. China is offering no significant new goals for reducing climate-changing emissions ahead of the UN climate summit set to start Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Wednesday, April 21, 2021 photo, smoke and steam rise from towers at the coal-fired Urumqi Thermal Power Plant in Urumqi in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. China is offering no significant new goals for reducing climate-changing emissions ahead of the UN climate summit set to start Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Mark Schiefelbein)
By Christina Larson Associated Press

WASHINGTON — China is offering no significant new goals for reducing climate-changing emissions ahead of the United Nations climate summit set to start next week in Glasgow.

China, the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that cause global warming, formally submitted its goals Thursday. The highly-anticipated announcement includes targets previously established in speeches by President Xi Jinping and domestic policy documents.

China says it aims to reach peak emissions of carbon dioxide — which is produced mainly through burning coal, oil and natural gas for transportation, electric power and manufacturing — “before 2030.” The country is aiming for “carbon neutrality” — no net emissions of CO2 — before 2060.

“It’s not surprising, but it is disappointing that there wasn’t anything new” in terms of goals, said Joanna Lewis, an expert in China, climate and energy at Georgetown University.

Lewis said the document released today “gave more detail about China will meet those goals,” however, by measures including increasing its wind and solar power capacity, as well as carbon-absorbing forest cover.

Climate experts say key questions about China’s future carbon emissions remain unanswered.

“The document gives no answers on the major open questions about the country’s emissions,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki. “At what level will emissions peak and how fast should they fall after the peak?”

Nations participating in the U.N. climate conference, known as the 26th Conference of Parties, or COP26, submit what are called “nationally determined contributions” that lay out emissions reduction plans.

It’s still possible that China may have additional announcements at the climate summit related to financing for renewable energy overseas, said Lewis.

Sam Geall, CEO of nonprofit China Dialogue and associate fellow at Chatham House in London said China’s pledge is “consistent with everything that we’ve seen from Xi Jinping’s previous statements.”

He and other experts are concerned that pledges on emissions targets and also on financial support to help reduce emissions and adapt to a changing climate, especially for developing countries, “are coming in far too late, far too small.”

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