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China details carbon emissions plans - but offers no new pledges ahead of COP26

·3 min read

China has announced new details of its emissions reduction plans, promising that fossil fuels will form less than 20% of its energy mix by 2060.

The new guidelines, announced by state news agency Xinhua, do not contain new pledges, but more details on how China will reach its already announced targets.

Clean energy would account for 20% of the country's energy by 2025, the year when China has promised that its emissions from coal - by far the most of any country - would peak.

But there were grounds for pessimism, too.

The policy said that it was important to "manage the relationship between pollution reduction and carbon reduction and energy security, industrial supply chain security, food security and normal life of the people" - suggesting that Beijing was not prepared to put climate change ahead of other more traditional strategic goals.

China has faced rolling power shortages as coal prices have soared.

As a result it has increased its coal production. It continues to build new coal power plants, adding more than three times as much coal power in 2020 as the rest of the world combined.

Tian Yun, an economist based in Beijing told the Global Times, a state-run newspaper, that "the push for the carbon goals should also take place in an orderly way, maybe starting from provinces not reliant upon manufacturing industries like Northwest China's Qinghai and South China's Hainan, before being extended to other regions".

Analysis: Not the big new pledge the world was looking for

Ahead of COP, the world has been watching China for a big new carbon pledge. No country has the potential to make a bigger impact on climate reduction.

This is not it.

Chinese bureaucracy is fond of opaque phrases and for climate, the buzzword du jour is "1+N". This refers to the overarching aims - the "1". The "N" is the plan for how to get there.

The new documents look more at the 1, with targets for the country's overall energy mix by specific dates.

But the most important question has not been answered.

China has said it will peak coal emissions by 2025 - not soon enough for many people, especially as it is adding coal power up to that point.

We don't know how much it will add before the end of 2025 but, more importantly, what that peak will look like. Will it be a sharp decline, or a slow, polluting dwindle? The implications of that for the planet are huge.

And the language on balancing climate change goals with other priorities like supply chain and energy security is also worrying. China will move on climate, but not at the expense of stability elsewhere.

More broadly, the policy document - released quietly on a Sunday evening - perhaps gives an indication of what we can expect from China at COP. It is unlikely to make significant new pledges.

When it has announced goals, it has done so on its own terms - not as a result of pressure from Western countries, which it regards as hectoring from states that have the biggest obligation to act, given their wealth and historical emissions.

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