China, the world’s biggest source of carbon dioxide, is aiming for carbon-neutrality by 2060. President Xi Jinping announced this goal while speaking to the UN General Assembly by video. Xi took the assembly by surprise. Since world events and political tensions have stalled global climate negotiations, the general assembly had expected little progress on climate change until 2021.

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“We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” Xi said, according to the official translation. China is currently responsible for about 28% of the planet’s carbon emissions.

Related: Google becomes retroactively carbon-neutral

Xi and then U.S.-President Barack Obama came to a climate change understanding in 2014, which laid significant groundwork for the 2015 Paris Agreement. President Trump immediately backed out of the Paris Agreement upon taking office.

Some experts believe that Xi is making an advantageous statement to the world at a time when the U.S. won’t address climate change. “Xi Jinping’s climate pledge at the UN, minutes after President Donald Trump’s speech, is clearly a bold and well calculated move,” said Li Shuo, a climate policy expert from Greenpeace Asia, according to BBC. “It demonstrates Xi’s consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes.”

While many observers agree that Xi’s pronouncement is a significant step, lots of questions still remain to be answered, such as exactly what he means by carbon-neutrality and how China will get there.

“Today’s announcement by President Xi Jinping that China intends to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 is big and important news — the closer to 2050 the better,” said former U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern.

Richard Black, director of the U.K.-based think tank Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, is hopeful about Xi’s pronouncement. “China isn’t just the world’s biggest emitter but the biggest energy financier and biggest market, so its decisions play a major role in shaping how the rest of the world progresses with its transition away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change.”


Image via Ferdinand Feng