China’s cities surpass 2030 carbon peak promise

In the run up to COP21’s opening plenary on Monday, November 30, 2015, countries have been pledging their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These public announcements submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat describe how each Party will mitigate its GHG emissions, obama and chinaas well as implement adaptation strategies, help developing country Parties finance these kinds of actions, and participate in capacity building and technology transfer programs. Submitted INDCs number 35 as of today, which represents 63 Parties, given that the EU’s INDC covers the EU-28 or the 28 member states of that regional economic integration organization. China filed its INDC at the end of June, a detailed statement about the country’s past, present, and future climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Its overall objectives comport with the November 2014 joint announcement with the United States in which both countries described their individual mitigation targets and joint programming. Notably China pledge to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner.

That’s why yesterday’s announcement at a joint US-China meeting that 11 Chinese cities and provinces will see their emissions drop sooner than the national target year caught my eye. Beijing and Guangzhou, two of China’s largest cities, committed to peak their carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, while Shenzhen pledged to do so by 2022. These three cities are part of the China’s Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities. This Alliance represents 25% of the country’s urban carbon emissions — the equivalent of Japan’s or Brazil’s national emissions. Wow!

The focus on the potential for cities and other subnational governments to implement mitigation and adaptation in a big way has been in the forefrontCHina air quality of the Paris negotiations on a new international climate change agreement. Nongovernmental organizations like C40 and ICLEI have built strong partnerships among the world’s largest cities. These partnerships have shared successful mitigation strategies, policies, and programs. This announcement yesterday by China’s major cities and provinces, and today’s anticipated joint declaration by municipal and regional leaders from both countries (including from more than a dozen U.S. states and cities) at a meeting on low-carbon cities in Los Angeles reinforces the message to UNFCCC State Parties: subnational governments have a major role to play in keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

And one more unexpected benefit of this city-centered work on climate change: it keeps the two largest GHG emitting countries focused on climate change, away from the distractions of other geopolitical tensions between them. Presidents Xi and Obama are expected to challenge each other on cybersecurity when the Chinese president comes to the United States next week. As a Reuters journalist observes, “Climate change is one area where the two countries largely see eye to eye, a fact the White House is happy to highlight.”