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China’s Carbon Neutrality Goal is Good Policy and Good Politics

The second-biggest economy’s new 2060 target could be a game changer if concrete policies follow.

Xi Jinping speaks virtually during the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22. 2020.

Xi Jinping speaks virtually during the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22. 2020.

Photographer: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg

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Talk is cheap. Action is hard. Cue the jokes about thousands of climate diplomats flying millions of miles to generate more hot air. Add to that President Donald Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro allowing rampant deforestation in the Amazon, and growing nationalist tendencies the world over, and it’s hard not to be cynical about the importance of climate diplomacy these days. (Full disclosure: my fleece jacket from the Copenhagen 2009 talks is keeping me warm as I write this, and I have enough swag from various climate talks to never have to bring an NPR tote bag to Whole Foods again.)

That makes President Xi Jinping’s declaration to the UN General Assembly this week that China plans to “achieve carbon neutrality before 2060” all the more surprising, and significant. By itself, it could lower projections of global average warming by 2100 by as much as 0.2 to 0.3°C.