China’s Old Climate Promises Are ‘New’ Again

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, which the U.S. and China issued at the U.N.’s 26th climate conference (COP26) in November, as “an important step in the right direction.” The declaration does not contain any new commitments from China.

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement requires countries to report on their plans for addressing man-made global warming as “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). China presented its supposedly revised NDC just before COP26. It stated that it “aims for carbon dioxide emissions to peak by 2030.”

China announced the same goal during a 2014 Joint Announcement on Climate Change. It also promised that it would work to “increase ambition over time”. China’s updated 2021 NDC did increase its 2030 target for non–fossil fuels, from 20 percent to 25 percent of primary energy consumption.

The Global Methane Pledge was launched by the U.S., European Union, and other countries at COP26. It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% starting in 2030. China stated in the Glasgow Declaration that it will develop a plan for “significant methane emission control and reductions by 2020.” This basically reiterated China’s NDC promise that it would take “effectively curb methane emission from coal, oil, and gas mining” China has not signed the Global Methane Pledge.

China stated in the Glasgow Declaration that it would “phase down coal consumption within the 15th Five Year Plan” and will make every effort to speed up this process. It is the exact same promise that President Xi Jinping gave at the Leaders Summit on Climate in April 2021. That means Chinese coal consumption is unlikely to fall until 2026.

China and other countries with similar views refused to sign the Glasgow Climate Pact. The phrase “phasing out of coal” was changed with “the Phasedown of unabated co-power.” Undeterred This means that emissions from coal-fired power plants aren’t captured or sequestered in any way (e.g., underground pumped or absorb by new forest growth). Phasedown This means that the emissions of coal will not be eliminated but reduced. China’s NDC clearly states that it has no plans to phase out coal any time soon.

China’s empty platitudes in the Glasgow Declaration confirm that it will not be coerced into any major changes to its climate policy by the U.S.