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China Beat the U.S. to a Carbon Neutrality Pledge

The world’s top-polluting nation just promised to reach net-zero emissions before 2060.

Coking factory emissions  in Linfen, Shanxi province, China.

Coking factory emissions  in Linfen, Shanxi province, China.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

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Less than an hour after U.S. President Donald Trump took to the virtual floor of the United Nations General Assembly and slammed China for its environmental record, China’s President Xi Jinping stunned the climate community by pledging that it would become carbon neutral by 2060.

The two nearly back-to-back speeches provided a marked and powerful contrast. There are still many questions to be answered about China’s plan—most importantly how the country will define carbon neutrality. But the bare fact that China, by far the world's biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, has set out a net-zero pledge ahead of the U.S. shows how hard Beijing is striving to put itself at the center of global politics and the economic shift to clean energy—something Washington has been unwilling to do.