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China unlikely to move its net zero carbon emissions target by COP26, UN climate chief says

Written by on 29/09/2021

The United Nations climate change chief, Patricia Espinosa, has told Sky News that China seems unlikely to move its net zero carbon emissions target from 2060 to 2050 by COP26.

Speaking from a youth climate summit in Milan, Ms Espinosa suggested that a more ambitious plan from the world’s largest polluter was more likely to be delivered in “the coming years” rather than the weeks leading up to the Glasgow climate meeting.

China has currently pledged to deliver net zero before 2060 but has not specified a date.

Patricia Espinosa, the UN's climate change chief, suggested that a more ambitious plan from the world's largest polluter was more likely to be delivered in "the coming years"
Image: Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate change chief

It has been the target of increasingly urgent international diplomacy efforts as world leaders try to get it to move its net zero carbon emission target to 2050.

US Special Climate envoy John Kerry has previously said that unless China does this, the efforts of the rest of the world to keep the 1.5C warming target within reach could be in vain.

When pressed on whether China could move its net zero carbon target to 2050, which would be in line with commitments from a significant number of other countries including America and the UK, Ms Espinosa said: “I think maybe they are not there yet, at this moment.

“But I certainly hope that with more innovation…they could bring that date forward. By COP? I think that will be difficult. But at least have a plan to, to do that…to clearly express the openness to say, ‘okay, we are willing to come forward with more ambitious NDCs in the coming years’.”

More on Cop26

Scientists have recently predicted that global emissions could rise by 16% in the period up to 2030, leading to a possible 2.7 degree temperature rise.

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China and India need to make ‘meaningful climate changes’

I asked Ms Espinosa if the world has missed its chance to act. She said: “No, not yet.

“We still have this window of opportunity. But every day, every moment that passes, the window is smaller. And this is why Glasgow is so important.”

The Glasgow climate summit is being hosted by the British government, which have been criticised for continuing to approve new licences for extracting oil and gas in the North Sea.

Climate activists Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg told Sky News that the policy was “textbook hypocrisy” as the UK tries to assume a global leadership position on tackling climate change.

Ms Espinosa said: “So the tendency needs to be to really go towards phasing out…and really shifting into renewable sources of energy.

“And so I certainly hope that this global process will allow…the UK and other countries that are still very much using fossil fuels, to go away from that.”

I asked Ms Espinosa if the UK should specifically stop approving licences for the new extraction of fossil fuels.

She said: “Correct. Correct. That is one of the measures that definitely will be helpful.”

There are still myriad challenges facing the COP26 meeting, including a shortfall in funding for developing nations to tackle climate change, a lack of agreement on phasing out coal, and the number of countries that still haven’t come forward with more ambitious carbon pledges as promised under the Paris Agreement.

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Greta Thunberg says she finds it ‘strange’ how we are supposed to look up to the UK on the matter of climate change

I asked Ms Espinosa if the UN, which can be cumbersome and slow, is the right forum to tackle such an urgent issue.

She said: “Regarding climate change and other global challenges, there is no other option for the world, in my view.

“Why? Because it is very clear that climate change cannot be addressed by any single country on its own.

“It is really about the cooperation, it is really about creating the conditions so that the transformation takes place everywhere.

“The climate has no borders, right? So we need to address it through cooperation.”

And what keeps the UN climate chief up at night? I am surprised to hear her voice wobble in response.

She said: “So many things. The possibility that people would get so discouraged that they would kind of give up, you know, and for me on climate change, that’s really an area where we cannot keep up.

“We cannot give up.”

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