Climate change: Xi Jinping warns Boris Johnson China’s cuts to carbon emissions will be ‘gradual’

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·3-min read
Climate change: Xi Jinping warns Boris Johnson China’s cuts to carbon emissions will be ‘gradual’
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China’s president Xi Jinping has warned Boris Johnson in a phone call ahead of next week’s climate change summit that cuts to greenhouse gases produced by the world’s biggest carbon emitter will be only “gradual”.

Speaking just two days before the start of the United Nations Cop26 summit hosted by Mr Johnson in Glasgow, Mr Xi said that China’s commitment to climate action was “unwavering” but that bringing down carbon emissions would require “extensive and profound economic and social changes” which would have to be undertaken in a “gradual and orderly” way.

Commitments announced on Thursday by Beijing to reach peak emissions by 2030 and net zero in 2060 have been broadly criticised as insufficiently ambitious.

And Mr Xi has come under fire for refusing to join more than 120 other national leaders in Glasgow for the opening of the summit, regarded by many environmentalists as the last opportunity to secure meaningful action to keep global warming below 1.5C.

Downing Street signalled that Mr Johnson put pressure on Xi to step up Chinese efforts on emissions reductions.

In a readout of the call, No 10 said the prime minister “acknowledged” Beijing’s new plan but “emphasised the importance of all countries stepping up their ambition on climate change at Cop26 and taking concrete action to cut emissions and expedite the transition to renewable energy, including phasing out coal”.

And Mr Johnson himself later said that he had “pushed a bit” on getting a tougher ambition to curb coal use, telling Xi that “2025 would be better than 2030” - though he admitted: “I would not say he committed on that.”

The prime minister said Mr Xi “made the argument for technology as the solution” which would allow China “to move away from coal very fast”.

China was one of the last major countries to submit an emission reduction plan - known as a nationally determined contribution, or NDC - ahead of the Cop26 gathering.

The document represented only modest progress on China’s previous NDC, from the Paris summit in 2015, with new clarity that Beijing intends emissions to peak by the end of this decade with a reduction in the carbon intensity of the economy by more than 65 per cent.

While Beijing has agreed to stop funding coal power plants abroad, it continues to build them in China.

An account of today’s call released by the Chinese authorities says that Mr Xi told the prime minister that the new NDC reflected the fact that “extensive and profound economic and social changes require gradual and orderly progress and hard work”.

The Chinese president offered Mr Johnson his support for the Glasgow summit, adding that “China’s determination to accelerate green and low-carbon development is unwavering and it has always done what it says”.

Mr Xi stressed the principle, set out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that different countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” on emission reductions - meaning that progress can be made at varying speeds depending on their particular circumstances.

In an apparent warning to the UK not to interfere in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the Chinese president told Mr Johnson that “mutual trust”, with a “proper handling” of any differences, should be the foundation of UK-Chinese relations.

Downing Street said that the two leaders recognised “areas of disagreement and difficulty in the bilateral relationship”.

A spokesperson said: “The prime minister raised the United Kingdom’s concerns about the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong and human rights in Xinjiang.

At the same time, they agreed to cooperate on areas of shared interest, such as developing clean and green technology and supporting the sustainable recovery of the global economy.”

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