First Japan Underwhelmed, Now China May Be Late Announcing Their National Climate Plans

Photo: GovernmentZA via Climate Home News

Due to the coronavirus-induced economic slowdown, Climate Home News and then Axios reported that China is likely to delay until after the U.S. Presidential election the release of its plans for how it will revise its Paris Agreement targets. Two weeks ago, Japan announced its updated plans and they fell way short of what is needed to keep global temperature increases at no more than 2 degrees celsius, with activists accusing the Japanese Prime Minister of being content to settle for a low goal while continuing to fund coal power projects, according to The Guardian.

Why This Matters:  The coronavirus cannot be an excuse to lower climate ambitions, instead it must be seen as an opportunity to elevate them.  Since entire economies need to be rebuilt, why not do so more sustainably? Critics of the Japanese plan said it was shameful of the government to “sneak it out” in the midst of the pandemic.  But the pandemic has forced the U.N. to push back the U.N. Climate next meeting, which will be pivotal because all nations must pledge to do more not less if they hope to stay under the 2 degrees target.  Given all this, China’s delay is better than a retreat.   

Reading Between The Lines

To state the obvious, much hinges on the result of the U.S. election when it comes to climate change and the other large emitters.  It is not surprising then that China might want to take a wait and see approach — if Biden were to win, China could calibrate its plan accordingly.  As one former senior Obama Administration told ODP, “If it’s Biden, they’ll be more motivated to do better and will know that climate is going to matter again — hopefully a lot — in our relationship…The big issue is that they’re very liable to be way too incremental when they do come forward.”   A delay and a Biden win could also give Japan an opening to improve its NDCs as well.

According to Climate Home News, only 7 nations have submitted updated their climate plans (known as NDCs).   Before the Paris Agreement in 2015, China submitted its first NDCs in June well before the December meeting, helping to nudge other nations to take action.  But since the U.S. won’t submit NDCs at all unless Biden is elected, it’s hard for anyone here to criticize the Chinese for using the pandemic as a rationale for delaying the release of its plan.  And nothing formal has been announced yet about the delay.  The big question now is how long will the U.N. delay then meeting — will it be six months or a full year.  And that too may hinge on the virus and how long it continues to impact the major players like the host, the United Kingdom, and whether President Trump wins or loses in November.

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