The Paris Agreement, a global climate change document to which China is a party, allows China to increase emissions while imposing onerous requirements to cut emissions on “developed” nations. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, signed by the Obama administration, in 2018, but likely successor Joe Biden has vowed to re-sign the agreement immediately upon becoming president.
China regularly applauds itself as an environmentalist champion through its state media. Yet, in addition to being the world’s worst carbon emitter, China is responsible for widespread environmental destruction around the planet, including the destruction of coral reefs in the South China Sea and the increasingly concerning overfishing of the Galápagos Islands, where Chinese ships are not legally allowed to fish.
The Climate Ambition Summit, a U.N. event, occurred online; Xi addressed the summit from Beijing on Saturday night local time. The dictator again made clear that China promised nothing on climate action before 2030, a decade from his address.
“We aim to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” Xi said, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
“Today, I wish to announce some further commitments for 2030: China will lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by over 65 percent from the 2005 level,” he explained, “increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25 percent, increase the forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters from the 2005 level, and bring its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1.2 billion kilowatts.”
Xi pressured the world to accept “multilateralism” as a solution to climate challenges and let no nation take its responsibilities upon itself without intervention.
“In meeting the climate challenge, no one can be aloof and unilateralism will get us nowhere. Only by upholding multilateralism, unity, and cooperation can we deliver shared benefits and win-win for all nations,” Xi reportedly said. “China welcomes all countries’ support for the Paris Agreement and their greater contribution to tackling climate change.”
He added that only a “new architecture of climate governance where every party does it part” would save the earth.
Xi did not elaborate on which parties he expected to take on the leadership of the “climate governance” or who would enforce the “multilateralism” he deemed necessary.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, discussed Xi’s remarks with reporters Monday, praising Xi for adding “a new historical context” to “global climate governance.”
“President Xi’s speech testifies to China’s consistent position of seeking solidarity and promoting cooperation,” Wang said, “firmly supporting multilateralism and the comprehensive and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, demonstrates China’s responsibility as a major country and will guide the sustained improvement of global climate governance.”
“China is a solid contributor to the improvement of global climate governance,” he concluded. “We are pleased to see that under the advocacy of China, the EU, the UN, and other parties, the international community has formed a positive synergy in jointly addressing climate change and accelerating global climate governance.”
“China is a doer that honors its word and gets things done,” he added in response to another question about the climate summit.
The state-run propaganda outlet Global Times celebrated Xi’s remarks as “ambitious” and a vow of “concrete action.”
“The measures are expected to become the greatest boon for the global fight against climate change,” the Global Times claimed, “which will consolidate the country’s leadership in tackling global warming around the world.”
Communist Party-approved “experts” told the Global Times that Xi’s remarks showed that China had “intensified” its fight to reduce climate emissions, though Xi reaffirmed the timeline that Chinese officials had agreed to following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that commitment to continue increasing emissions for a decade in September in a statement on Twitter, claiming — as state media did this weekend — that Xi had announced novel commitments.
The Global Times did note that Xi left the door open to peaking in carbon emissions “before” 2030, but did not elaborate on what specific date would correspond to that.
The newspaper also claimed Xi’s remarks were an “olive branch” to Biden, who has vocally supported a U.S. return to the Paris climate agreement.
“Under a Biden-Harris Administration, we will rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one and lead the world in the fight against climate change,” Biden announced on Twitter on Saturday.
“China took the initiative to deliver an olive branch on climate issues which will also become the most promising area for China and the U.S. — the world’s two largest emitters — to resume dialogue,” the Global Times claimed, “following months of escalating confrontation in geopolitics, trade and high-tech, according to analysts.”
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, celebrated Beijing’s “great success” in climate policy this weekend, citing the increased “number of days with clean air” in some Chinese cities. Cities like Beijing are notorious for heavy smog, which affects the health and quality of life of residents.
China is responsible for 28 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The figure represents nearly double the emissions of the second-largest emitter, America, which is responsible for 15 percent of the total. The two are the only nations with double-digit emissions figures.
Unlike China, which has pledged to increase emissions, the United States has consistently decreased that number. America has documented a 14-percent drop in emissions from 2005 to 2016, the former year being the last in which increases were recorded. A large-scale transition from the use of coal to natural gas appears to be one of the most significant reasons for dwindling emissions rates.
As of November, the only nation among those remaining in the Paris Agreement making a good faith effort to honor its commitments is India, the world’s third-largest carbon dioxide emitter, according to the environmentalist coalition Climate Transparency.