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climate net zero Visual China Group via Getty Images

Destination Net-Zero

China is aiming to halt the rise in its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and become carbon neutral before 2060, just ten years after the European Union. Although the Chinese and European pledges are currently not legally binding, they will likely have far-reaching implications for both the global green transition and great-power politics.

In this Big Picture, the European Climate Foundation’s Laurence Tubiana argues that the two powers’ recent net-zero commitments, far from being merely aspirational, reflect a recognition that whoever moves first toward decarbonization will have a major competitive advantage for decades to come. Erik Berglöf, chief economist of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, explains why fulfilling President Xi Jinping’s carbon-neutrality pledge will require far more extensive public-private collaboration in China. And Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies shows how a full Chinese commitment to a green transition would both facilitate and challenge the EU’s own climate plans and policies.

Xi’s commitment is key, given China’s status as the world’s top CO2 emitter, and Kevin Tu of Agora Energiewende says that Xi’s two-phase climate pledge reflects the country’s self-perception as a “hybrid” superpower: a global leader that does not yet have a fully advanced economy. Meanwhile, former European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard argues that a renewed US commitment to tackling climate change would increase the pressure on other big polluters to embrace decarbonization immediately, and help to restore confidence in America’s international leadership.

To that end, Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University argues that the 1960s US moonshot offers lessons for how the world can achieve the aims of the Paris climate agreement as well as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

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