China calls on rich countries to stick to their climate targets

Over the past few days, top Chinese officials have been making public calls on developed countries not to backtrack on their stated climate goals, setting the tone for likely debates at the upcoming UN climate talks in Egypt in early November.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi and special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua made comments on the progress of rich countries in achieving their climate targets. In his address to the Informal Leaders’ Roundtable on Climate Action at the UN, Wang Yi said that developed countries should meet their carbon neutrality targets far ahead of schedule to create room for poorer countries that still need the carbon budget for development. He emphasised that this is essential for rebuilding “North–South trust”.

Xie was more blunt in his video conference with his German counterpart Jennifer Morgan a day later. “Some European countries are backtracking on their climate policy. We hope this is just a temporary stopgap,” he reportedly told the German side at the meeting. He also underscored the multitude of uncertainties and challenges facing global governance and urged all sides to take positive action.

The addresses offer a preview of likely exchanges between China and other major emitters at the UN’s COP27 climate conference to be held from Nov 6–18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Negotiators are expected to review the ambition level of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets of countries that are meant to collectively deliver the objective of the Paris Agreement to halt global temperature rise to below 2C or even 1.5C. The Egyptian presidency has explicitly warned that countries should “avoid backsliding on commitments and pledges despite the multiple challenges and crises, in particular energy crisis.”  

In Wang Yi’s speech at the UN roundtable, he stressed that the 30-year span between China’s 2030 carbon peaking target and the 2060 carbon neutrality goal is the “shortest in world history” and “will achieve the world’s largest reduction in carbon intensity.” He also reminded fellow world leaders that China has overachieved on its 2020 targets and has already updated its 2030 NDC targets (in 2021), suggesting limited room for China to further raise ambitions at a time when developed countries are struggling to meet their own.

Read China Dialogue’s explainer on the upcoming COP27 climate talks.