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China has submitted a new national plan for climate action to the UN ahead of key Cop26 talks which does not increase its existing targets.
Countries have been under pressure to make greater strides to cut emissions in the next decade to meet globally-agreed targets to curb dangerous climate change.
A lack of increased ambition from the world’s biggest polluter could undermine efforts to drive momentum at the two-week conference in Glasgow which kicks off on Sunday.
The world is currently well off track to deliver the kind of cuts to greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other sources that are needed to limit temperatures to 1.5C – beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be felt.
Earlier this week, the UN warned that the latest national action plans submitted by countries under the global climate treaty the Paris Agreement for action up to 2030, along with pledges from key countries including China, put the world on track for a “catastrophic” 2.7C of warming.
China has now submitted its national plan, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris accord – but has not included new targets beyond those already announced, with the goals labelled as “disappointing”.
It aims to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 and peak emissions before 2030, and lower carbon emissions per unit of GDP by over 65% from the 2005 level.
And it plans to increase the non-fossil fuel share of energy consumption to 25%, increase forests and bring its installed capacity of wind and solar to more than 1,200 gigawatts (GW) by 2030.
The targets are more ambitious than those it outlined six years ago before the Paris Agreement was secured, but do not increase its ambition from announcements made by the country in the past year.
Bernice Lee, from international affairs think tank Chatham House, said: “We can’t sugarcoat it: Beijing’s new climate plan is disappointing and well off where the world’s biggest emitter needs to be.
“China has low-balled its target and missed a chance to be recognised as a global leader.
“The plan says emissions will peak before 2030 – for all our sakes we need that date to be far sooner.”
She added: “But we also need to recognise this is a symptom of a wider malaise where big economies are announcing plans and failing on finance promises, but manifestly failing to deliver the level of emissions cuts we need to avoid brutal climate impacts.”
Li Shuo, policy adviser for Greenpeace China, said the decision “casts a shadow on the global climate effort”.
“In light of the domestic economic uncertainties, the country appears hesitant to embrace stronger near term targets and missed an opportunity to demonstrate ambition.
“The planet can’t afford this being the last word,” he said, and warned Beijing needed to come up with stronger implementation plans to ensure emissions peaked before 2025.
He added China’s choice not to further increase its ambition epitomised the lack of determination among some of the major economies to step up climate action – as well as the country’s mistrust of the US and whether it would be able to fulfil its carbon reduction and climate finance targets.
“There’s real fear that Washington’s empty words will intensify an already unfair global climate order.”
Nick Mabey, chief executive and co-founder of E3G climate think tank, said it was “very disappointing that despite massive fall in clean technology costs and increased climate impacts that China won’t clearly commit to decrease its carbon pollution over the next decade”.
He said it was hopefully not the last word from the Chinese and that President Xi would say more on coal and peaking emissions going into Cop26.
And he warned that as it stands, China’s plans for 2030 were not consistent with its pledge to reduce emissions to net zero by 2060.