China to peak CO2 emissions before 2030: West bears most responsibility for climate change

The United States should be stumping up more than $43 billion a year based on cumulative carbon emissions, gross national income and population size.

– Overseas Development Institute

China has promised to peak its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030, in an upgrade of its climate change plans that comes just three days before the start of COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The revised plan submitted to the United Nations, known as a nationally determined contribution, formalises several pledges made by Chinese president Xi Jinping earlier this year and in 2020.

The New Scientist magazine reported on 28 October 2021 that the announcement “commits China to peaking its emissions before 2030, rather than around 2030 as previously promised. China says it will also reduce its carbon intensity – a measure of emissions per unit of gross domestic product – by 65 per cent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. That is the upper end of the 60 to 65 per cent range set out in its earlier proposal.”

The article said that “The plan also pledges to cut the share of fossil fuels in China’s energy consumption to 75 per cent by 2030, an upgrade on the previous promise of 80 per cent.” It confirms two earlier announcements on coal which accounts for just under 60 per cent of the country’s energy supply. “The first is to phase down coal consumption between 2025 and 2030. The second is to not finance new coal power schemes overseas, a key commitment given that China is the single biggest funder of such projects”.

It should be noted that this last claim is out of context and misleading as Chinese entities accounted for only 13 per cent of financing for global coal power. According to a report in the South China Morning Post  on 10 July 2021, a comprehensive study by the Global Development Policy Centre at Boston University in the US, found that 87 per cent of total financing for overseas coal power projects came from entities outside China, mostly from private finance from Japan, the US and Britain.

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Western industrialization responsible for at least 70 % of global cumulative CO2 emissions

Overall, the revised plan represents a reiteration of significant previous public promises by China, rather than providing any surprises or big increases in ambition. China has been making it clear that its revised climate plan would not make unachievable commitments and its focus has been about a “steady and careful” energy transition rather than “big ambition”.

China’s State Council Information Office released a “White Paper on Responding to Climate Change: China’s Policies and Actions“, on 27 October 2021. The white paper was unveiled in the lead-up to the COP 26 United Nations Climate Conference, which is to be held at the beginning of November in Scotland. A link to the full White Paper is provided below.

It reviewed China’s progress in modernizing the energy sector, noting an “accelerated clean, low-carbon transformation” in the country’s energy consumption mix, including a steady decline in the proportion of coal in the mix down from 72.4 percent in 2005 to 56.8 percent in 2020.

Rich nations cumulative carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change

In terms of the global picture, China places special responsibility on the developed Western economies: “Human activity since the Industrial Revolution, particularly the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the huge consumption of fossil fuels by developed countries, have led to a significant increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases exacerbating climate change characterized by global warming.”

A senior Chinese environmental official said on Wednesday (Oct 27) that establishing a fund to help poor countries tackle climate change will be “the biggest obstacle” during United Nations negotiations in Glasgow.

Climate and development experts argue industrialised countries built their prosperity by burning fossil fuels, making them responsible for a large part of the losses happening in countries on the frontlines of worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas, many of them in the southern hemisphere.

A 2020 study in The Lancet Planetary Health journal estimated that, as of 2015, nations in the Global North were responsible for 92% of carbon emissions beyond safe levels for the planet, while the Global South accounted for just 8%.

The developed Western nations agreed in 2009 to establish a US$100 billion per year fund to help transfer technologies and minimise climate risks in the developing world, but progress has been slow, with many failing to meet their pledge, creating an outstanding shortfall of $20 billion.

An article by Beh Lih Yi of the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Sept 11, 2021 said that “Without promised support, many vulnerable poorer nations – battered by the economic impacts of COVID-19 and surging climate disasters – say they simply cannot take more aggressive action to cut planet-heating emissions or adapt to a warmer world.”

Ms Beh Yi reported that “Rich countries must deliver on a promise to channel $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing nations, otherwise they may jeopardise November’s critical negotiations to limit global warming”, according to the head of the UN-backed Green Climate Fund. But as November’s COP26 climate summit approaches fast, time is running out to convince developing countries – both big and small emitters – that any efforts at home to raise their climate game will be met with solid financial backing, analysts say.

The US, the world’s richest nation, has been a particular laggard.

The United States has said it would double its climate finance to about $5.7 billion a year by 2024 – but that level is still seen by many climate finance experts as far below what it owes to developing countries – and Biden must get it through a hostile Congress.

A recent analysis from the Overseas Development Institute said the United States should be stumping up more than $43 billion a year based on cumulative carbon emissions, gross national income and population size. It called the United States the biggest offender among 23 donor states in terms of falling short of its responsibilities.


Thomson Reuters Foundation, ‘Where is the money? Climate finance shortfall threatens global warming goals’

The Lancet, ‘Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary’

People’s Daily, ‘White paper details country’s low-carbon efforts’

New Scientist, ‘China’s new climate plan promises to peak CO2 emissions before 2030’

South China Morning Post, ‘China’s dominance in global coal loans is overstated, study finds’

Qiushi Journal Online,  ‘White Paper: Responding to Climate Change: China’s Policies and Actions – full document’