China has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2060, as per a recorded video message to the UN General Assembly by the country’s leader, Xi Jinping. He also reiterated his previous commitment that the country will aim to halt the rise of its carbon emissions by 2030, which was made as part of the Paris Agreement. China currently produces 27 to 28 per cent of the world’s emissions.

This surprise announcement is seen as ambitious by many experts, especially since Mr Xi did not offer a roadmap towards achieving carbon neutrality or any other detail. It is not clear if this target will cover domestic emissions only, or include the emissions caused by China’s investments abroad such as the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure-building scheme. Experts also suggest that China will reach its emissions peak before 2030 and many conclude that that could arrive as early as 2025. 

Last year European leaders set a target for ‘climate neutrality’ by 2050, though there has been no formal commitment till now. The term ‘carbon neutrality’ suggests that other greenhouse gases will be outside the purview of this commitment. More than 60 other countries have pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2050, which many scientists believe is a prerequisite if the worst of climate disaster is to be averted.

Even today, more than 60 per cent of China’s electricity supply comes from burning coal – this will need to be completely decarbonised to achieve the declared target. Yet, the country is still building coal-fired power plants faster than any other country. Coal consumption has also risen in recent years. At the same time, it is fast emerging as a leader in clean-energy technologies, including solar panels and wind turbines, and is the world’s largest manufacturer of electric cars and buses. Experts believe that apart from generating electricity from clean energy sources, the country will also need technologies that can capture carbon released from burning fossil fuels and store it underground, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).