Last week’s Climate Week NYC was unusual for a number of reasons – like many such events in 2020, it was virtual, for a start. But also, despite the string of eye-catching announcements that the event habitually brings, the biggest news for the climate happened away from the conference.
In a shock move that didn’t get the attention it deserved because of the noise from the US political scene, China, the world’s largest emitter and the dominant user of coal to generate electricity, committed at the UN General Assembly to ensure that its emissions will peak by 2030 and that it would become carbon-neutral by 2060.
As yet, there are no details about how the country will achieve these goals, but they mark a significant shift in policy for China, which has long claimed that as a developing nation it should not face the same restrictions on emissions that industrialised nations do even though it produces 28% of global emissions. As the New York Times NYT says, “China is now pledging to lead by example, setting itself goals befitting a country that aspires to be a superpower”.
This is hugely significant in itself – scientists calculate that meeting these targets could avoid 0.25°C of temperature rises – but it also removes one of the main arguments for not acting that climate sceptics often employ; namely that there is no point – and it is not fair – if we reduce our emissions because China is increasing its carbon pollution. It will increase pressure on the US to reconsider its plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement if President Trump is re-elected, but also ensures that climate action will remain a dominant theme in the global economy even if he does.
Another key emitter, South Korea, announced that it would become a net-zero economy by 2050, with renewable energy generating at least 20% of its electricity by 2030. And the state of California said it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035, which will provide a huge boost to electric vehicle sales.
At the corporate level, companies in the UK including Heathrow Airport, supermarket giant Tesco and energy groups SSE and E.ON called for the government to bring forward a UK ban from 2035 to 2030.
Also in the UK, what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, ordered the world’s largest wind turbines, GE’s 13MW Haliade-X devices, which can power a home for two days with a single spin of its 107-metre blades.
A number of companies, including Changzhou New Wide, a supplier to Walmart WMT , Adidas, Decathlon and Lululemon, joined the Climate Group’s EP100 initiative, which commits companies to double their energy productivity or to make their buildings net zero by 2030. Walmart announced that it would become net-zero by 2040, without using offsetting to reach its target.
Other leading brands, including Pepsico PEP , Intel INTC , Asics, Sanofi SNY and SKF, signed up to RE100, which commits them to source 100% renewable power by 2050 at the latest, although the average target currently is for 2028.
Meanwhile, Tesla TSLA announced that a technological breakthrough could see batteries for its vehicles halve in price by the end of 2023.