China, the world’s worst polluter, has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060. President Xi Jinping, in a virtual speech at the United Nations General Assembly, made the announcement after insisting it would hit a peak in carbon dioxide emissions before 2030. China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. China accounts for 30% of global emissions so this is big news!
The reduction in global energy-related CO2 emissions that you can see for some countries in the graph below has resulted mainly from a sharp decline in emissions from the power sector in advanced economies, thanks to the expanding role of renewable sources (mainly wind and solar), fuel switching from coal to natural gas, and higher nuclear power output.
China’s significant CO2 output is clear but what also caught my eye was the reductions from the US, Europe and to a lesser extent UK where the scale of the graph masks the progress that we have already made in this country.
The UK’s CO2 emissions peaked in 1973 and have declined by around 43% since 1990, faster than any other major developed country. Declines in the UK’s CO2 have persisted despite an economic recovery from the financial crisis a decade ago. Where earlier reductions were largely negated by rising imports, the past decade has seen genuine cuts in the amount of CO2 for which the UK is responsible.
The largest driver has been a cleaner electricity mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal. The factors driving emission reductions will likely continue into the future as the UK’s remaining coal use is phased out by 2025, although the government is consulting to bring this forward by a year to 2024.