By overturning the principle that the West must decarbonize before developing countries, Beijing has opened the way for real action.
President Xi Jinping’s announcement in September that China would cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2060 caught the world by surprise, turning conventional climate wisdom on its head. Since the mid-1990s, most observers have believed that the United States held the key to global climate action.
And even today, the incoming Biden administration continues to embrace the conceit, promising to take up the mantle of global climate leadership and even threatening to brand other nations as “climate outlaws” despite having no actionable plan to significantly cut U.S. emissions.
China, by contrast, has fundamentally changed the rules of the game. Its announcement was quickly followed by net-zero pledges from Japan and Korea. The breakthrough, it appears, has taken place in Asia, not Washington, and represents at once a rebuke of the infamously climate change-denying Trump administration and also a backhanded validation of sorts.