China made an ambitious (and timely) carbon pledge this week. The United Nations was quick to laud the global giant’s climate claims.

Busy? Try the speed read.

The scoop: China made an announcement to the UN with plans to go carbon neutral by 2060.

What to know:

  1. China is the number one carbon emitter in the world, with more carbon emissions thn the US and Europe combined.
  2. China is still investing heavily in coal-powered plants through 2020, de-legitimizing the carbon pledge.
  3. The UN took the pledge very seriously, indicating its unwillingness to criticize Chinese climate policy.

Bottom line: China’s carbon pledge is smoke and mirrors. The announcement comes weeks before a major US election when voters are antsy. The United Nations needs to focus on human rights efforts, not tweeting celebration emojis for empty words.

Dig deeper 3 min

Earlier this month, 321 civil society groups from more than 60 countries signed an open letter asking the UN to form an independent international mechanism to address the profuse human rights violations across China, including in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

The move came in response to a historic statement from over 50 UN human rights experts in June 2020. In their statement, they condemned Chinese authorities and called for “decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China.”

What has come of it so far? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

Instead of human rights, the news cycle is spinning around China’s big hopes to go carbon neutral by 2060. The announcement was made during the UN General Assembly this week, and climate change cohorts hastily lauded the pledge. I have a few questions:

  1. Can China (the #1 carbon emitter in the world) realistically go carbon neutral by 2060?
  2. Why is China doing this now?
  3. Who trusts China?

China can’t go carbon neutral with a carbon pledge, they announced an ambitious climate plan weeks before a major US election, and the only actors who trust China is the UN (China is the second largest contributor), the WHO (China is the #2 contributor not counting Bill Gates), the WTO (China is the second largest contributor) and China.

Communist China’s Carbon Pledge is… political.

According to this Climate Tracker Analysis, a carbon neutral China would reduce global temperatures by 0.3° C.

In case your not a numbers guy or gal, that’s a big deal. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote a Special Report back in 2018 stating that the world needed to stay below a 1.5° C threshold from per-industrial levels to prevent a climate catastrophe. So preventing 1/5 of that spike would save us decades of concern.

As the world largest carbon emitter, China understands the potential political prowess associated with a climate-focused Communist Party on the global stage. If they can lead the world on the issue they currently exacerbate, the world would quickly forget their problematic past, in theory.

And so they announced an ambitious goal this week about carbon emissions. Despite their public promise, Chinese coal plants are at peak output levels, with enough energy production to last well beyond the 2060 mark.

Nature presents a unique opportunity

From a political perspective, it’s just too much of a low-hanging fruit to not take a bite. The United States and China are in the midst of a data-trade-information cold war… in case you didn’t notice. Trump is an easy target. His weak, clumsy stance on climate action leaves the world hanging dry with no international leader.

And so China’s role in a political environment like the United Nations, the de-facto US home turf, is becoming increasingly formidable. Whether or not they intend to lower emissions, China’s lofty claim about carbon is a good political move. UN leaders were quick to grab gold stars and pat their favorite pocket-filler on the head.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, sent out a tweet this week congratulating President Xi Jinping for nothing short of a questionable pledge from a questionable regime. To put the pledge into context, China produces more greenhouse gases today than the U.S. and Europe combined.

Whether or not they intend to lower emissions, China’s lofty claim about carbon is a good political move.

Looking ahead

In my mind, there is a deeper, more sinister plot to unravel from a climate-driven China boosted by a carbon pledge. Still, I suppose it’s better than a powerful dystopian dictatorship purporting the need for mass surveillance. Oh wait…

International organizations like the UN and WTO are less and less likely to speak up these days when Beijing speaks out of turn. What’s that old saying? Money talks.

Soft sticks on Xi’s incrementally more predatory international policy tell us what we already feared to know: China has become the UN’s high school quarterback.

He may stick gum in Taiwan’s hair, cut Civics class with Venezuela, or shove Freshman nations in gym lockers… but if China plays well on Friday night, the principal will look the other way.

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