China must adopt 'ambitious' climate change goals ahead of Glasgow summit, U.N. secretary-general says

·Senior Climate Editor
·3-min read

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called on China to lay out “ambitious” goals to combat the environmental crisis in advance of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, which begins next week in Glasgow, Scotland. Speaking at a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of China’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, Guterres thanked China for its actions in recent years to combat climate change, but appealed to the world’s most populous country — and by far the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases — to do more.

“I commend President Xi Jinping for announcing at the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly that China will end financing of coal-fired power plants abroad and direct support to green and low carbon energy,” Guterres said. “We must do everything possible to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement alive. I appeal for China’s presentation of an ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution in the run-up to COP-26 in Glasgow.”

Guterres’s concern stems from the fact that China emits more greenhouse gases than all industrialized nations in the world combined, but so far has promised only to peak those emissions by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Most developed countries, including the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, have promised to substantially reduce their emissions this decade and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a podium.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the U.N. General Assembly in September. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool via Reuters)

Released Monday, an update to a U.N. report synthesizing the “nationally determined contributions” each country has offered to reduce climate change found that the world is still falling short of what is needed to meet the goals laid out at the last major U.N. climate change conference, in Paris in 2015.

In the Paris agreement, 197 countries, including China, pledged to keep the Earth from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels and to make their best efforts to hold warming below 1.5°C, but they didn’t actually offer big enough emissions cuts to get there. The nationally determined contributions from Paris would allow 2.7°C to 3.1°C of warming by the end of this century. The hope was that as countries begin cutting emissions, they would promise steeper cuts at the next round of negotiations, originally scheduled for 2020 in Glasgow but postponed until this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

So heading into the Glasgow summit, also known as COP26, many countries have offered bolder new targets for emissions reductions. The U.S., for instance, nearly doubled its planned cuts by 2030.

But other nations have been reluctant to make new promises. This is especially true of developing nations such as China and India, which view industrialized countries as hypocritical for having emitted far more greenhouse gases historically and for demanding that poorer countries start cutting emissions before rich countries have really meaningfully cut their own. That’s why China has resisted pressure to promise to peak its emissions sooner than 2030.

The result is a world on course for catastrophic climate change unless countries act to close that gap.

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