China’s 1.5-degree pledge lacks teeth

By Matthew Pennington Global summits often don’t generate concrete new commitments, but China’s Sunday night pledge to move towards emissions cuts may still be risky for a meeting that’s predicted to deliver little in…

China's 1.5-degree pledge lacks teeth

By Matthew Pennington

Global summits often don't generate concrete new commitments, but China's Sunday night pledge to move towards emissions cuts may still be risky for a meeting that's predicted to deliver little in the way of concrete climate action.

Countries from around the world will begin their annual gathering on Monday in Katowice, Poland, but the conference is likely to produce few meaningful results, despite intense political pressure from the Trump administration, which plans to withdraw from the Paris accord.

That's largely because the countries that have delivered results in the past - such as the European Union, which says it will review the binding nature of the Paris accord to ensure it stays strong - are now outnumbered by the major economies who plan to lead emissions cuts after 2020.

China, for example, is the world's largest emitter and might have shown up the entrenched views of other delegates about the need for action had it committed to cuts alongside the EU in a final deal, though it struck a compromise statement instead that underscored its "concern" over climate change and pledges by other countries.

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Other developed countries still want to go even further - notably the US and Canada, which argue that further reduction of their own emissions, combined with a shift to renewable energy, can balance global pledges.

But such pledges won't go anywhere near the kind of promises required to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees C, an ambitious goal that has created a sense of urgency as it sets the stage for widespread changes in how people live and what they do.

China's pledge to stay within "the Paris temperature goal" of a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees C "from today" in 2020 matches the level required if the accord is to be truly meaningful. But it's far from the kind of ambition that people want to see or the sort of visible action that might generate meaningful pledges from countries to cut emissions.

"For China to actually be announcing that this target actually contains additional commitments in the future, that's going to be really challenging for the rest of the rest of the world to deliver even when it's known that the Chinese aren't going to be doing that at the same time," Kerry Sieh, director of the Sierra Club's Asian Program, said Sunday.

"At the moment, we really feel like we have a bunch of roadblocks," he said.

In a statement marking the start of the summit, President Xi Jinping said China will respect and honour its commitments to the Paris accord, and the country will also take concrete steps to boost its domestic market for green energy and embrace other measures to boost the economy's efficiency and provide more jobs.

The only difference between his pledge in Shanghai and the one from Katowice is that his paragraph pointed to "specific measures" to hit the 2020 target - Xi did not mention any emissions-cutting measures or their corresponding timeline.

The French government, which will host the Paris climate summit at the end of the year, has said the conference could produce a declaration by COP24 acknowledging how far the goal of 1.5C of warming must be scaled up.

"It doesn't feel all that definitive," Sieh said. "I just don't think it's going to work."

The final outcome in Katowice will likely be less than the sum of its parts, from promises to sign on to the UN's climate agreement to formal vows to stay within the temperature rise.

China was seen as a potential bellwether for other countries that will not necessarily be included in the agreement at the same level as the EU.

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