COP26: will China play ball on climate change?

Fears grow that the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter will not co-operate at forthcoming climate talks

Emissions in China
(Image credit: Getty Images )

There are growing concerns about China’s attitude towards the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow after Beijing was angered by the new security and defence pact between Australia, the UK and the US.

Following the announcement of the Aukus deal, COP26 chair Alok Sharma admitted last night that he was unable to say whether President Xi Jinping would attend the gathering, The Guardian reported.

With November’s talks fast approaching, Boris Johnson heaped praise on Beijing’s role in tackling climate change, saying: “The Chinese actually have stepped up. They’ve gone a long way already and I congratulate President Xi on his vision.”

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Speaking to journalists on his way to New York for a three-day visit to the US, in which he hopes to “galvanise” progress towards a new climate deal, the prime minister added that Sharma had “some great conversations already with his Chinese counterparts about the things they want to do” and that these talks show “real signs of making progress”.

However, there are widespread doubts over whether China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, will play ball at the forthcoming climate talks.

The nation’s role is crucial to efforts on climate change because China produces 28% of global emissions, compared with the UK’s 1%. Thanks to its “turbo-charged economy”, said the BBC, China is now emitting more CO2 than all rich nations put together, according to some estimates.

Although President Xi has offered to freeze emissions growth by 2030, scientists say that’s not enough to evade deadly climate change. The BBC’s environmental analyst, Roger Harrabin, said that if China doesn’t slash emissions, the planet is in “even more serious trouble” environmentally.

Last week, Reuters reported that China’s refusal to accept requests for deeper carbon emissions cuts during recent visits from the top climate envoys of the US and Britain could undermine progress in Glasgow.

It added that Beijing “no longer feels obliged to consider requests for deeper carbon cuts” because former President Donald Trump “rejected US climate change commitments, most notably by withdrawing from the Paris accord”.

Xi has previously promised to “increase the strength” of emissions goals, to reflect his commitment to reach the 2060 “net zero” target.

Last month, China’s top climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said China had already strengthened other pledges, including a new renewable energy target and a commitment to bring emissions to a peak “before” 2030 instead of “around” 2030.

Beijing has also said it will cut coal consumption starting in 2026 and produce 25% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

However, Sharma told Sky News, UK ministers “want to see the detail of that” and “that is what we are pressing them”.

He added: “I said to them we want to see the detailed policy around this and they – along with every other major economy in the G20 – have committed before COP26 they will come forward with ambitious plans to cut emissions.”

US diplomatic sources said the Chinese government is unwilling to be seen buckling to overseas pressure on the coal consumption cuts.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said it was “absolutely essential” that China had a presence at the COP26 summit, as she expressed her concern that a new security pact between the US, UK and Australia had “just enraged the Chinese even more”.

Meanwhile, noted the BBC, some activists fear that China’s record is being used as a distraction by other nations. A spokeswoman for Extinction Rebellion UK said: “We mustn’t allow those trying to frustrate action to use China as a scapegoat and further excuse their own responsibility.”

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