China will scale up its climate commitment with the aim of peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060, it announced during the United Nation’s 75th General Assembly and first virtual General Debate, which coincided with Climate Week NYC 2020. This could be “huge,” says the World Resources Institute, in a Sept. 29 WRI blog post that summed up the week’s major actions.

“Fulfilling China’s net zero emissions commitment alone could lower projections on global temperature rise by 0.2-0.3 degrees C—about 0.4-0.5 degrees F,” wrote the post's authors, led by Helen Mountford, WRI’s vice president for climate and action, and including staff members Yamide Dagnet Lorena Gonzalez, Kevin Moss, Joe Thwaites, Ginette Walls and David Waskow.

“That said, the devil is in the details, and more precision is needed on how China will achieve these goals, including an early peaking date,” wrote the authors.

High on the list should be how China will square these announcements with the almost 250 GW of coal-fired power currently under development, added WRI. The bottom line is that China has “a major incentive to fulfill its ambitions: new analysis by Cambridge Econometrics shows that with the right policies, a pathway to reach its carbon neutrality target by 2060 could potentially grow China’s gross domestic product by as much as 5% this decade,” said WRI.

China is now poised to join the 13 countries that have already submitted updated nationally determined contributions, stemming from the Paris Agreement global framework. Those countries include Chile, Jamaica, Rwanda and Cuba, which have submitted strengthened NDCs this year. Last week, South Africa became the 18th party to submit its long-term strategy, which is aimed at reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Climate Week NYC 2020, held virtually Sept. 21-27, was supported by the U.N. and New York City and organized by the nonprofit Climate Group, which is in pursuit of a net-zero future “through just transition.” There were more than 500 events from nations including India, Ecuador and Australia, and more than 1,500 attendees.

“There’s a lot to be said for the power of the virtual world in creating greater accessibility and awareness of climate change,” said Helen Clarkson, CEO of the Climate Group, in a statement. “We want to build a model that allows us to continue to do this, even when we’re able to come together again.”

According to WRI, notable government announcements and plans outside the official U.N. meeting include:

  • The European Commission’s proposal, to be confirmed this year, to raise the EU’s emissions target from at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 to at least 55%.
  • Canada Governor-General Julie Payette's announcement that plans to exceed Canada’s 2030 target would be brought forward soon, along with formal legislation to reach net-zero by 2050.
  • South Korea’s national assembly recognizing the climate emergency and setting a nonbinding goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Business and Private Sector Action

WRI also noted recent announcements and commitments from the private sector:

  • Walmart pledged to be 100% carbon neutral across its global operations by 2040–without using carbon offsets.
  • Facebook committed to decarbonize its supply chain by 2030, and joined over 280 other companies in committing to net-zero and interim science-based targets in the Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign.
  • General Electric announced its exit from the market for new coal-fired power plants, adding that it will focus on renewable energy and power generation businesses that it thinks have attractive economics and a growth trajectory. 
  • Climate Action 100+, a group of investors responsible for over $47 trillion in assets, called on the 161 biggest greenhouse gas emitting companies to enact strategies to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • PepsiCo announced that it is transitioning to 100% renewable electricity globally, focusing first on company-owned operations by 2030, with a 2040 target date for its entire global operations.
  • Almost 1,000 companies have signed on to the Science Based Targets initiative, pledging to set emissions reduction targets consistent with a Paris trajectory.

Disappointingly few new commitments were made on public climate finance, said WRI. This, despite the fact that countries such as Bangladesh, Fiji and Niger called for scaled-up investment to support countries adapting to the unprecedented impacts of climate change and resulting losses and damage.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres reminded developed countries to deliver this year on their commitment to mobilize $100 billion each year for mitigation, adaptation and resilience in developing countries.

According to WRI, one of the few bright spots was the Ambition Initiative, with $196 million from Germany and the U.K. for technical and financial project support for developing countries. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the goal of reaching $100 billion in annual climate finance, a welcome signal given that Canada is lagging behind similar countries in its climate finance provision, says WRI.

As part of the recently launched COP26 Energy Transition Council, the U.K. announced it is investing £50 million in the new Clean Energy Innovation Facility (CEIF) to support access to clean energy technologies for developing countries. This is a step in the right direction toward meeting the UK’s International Climate Finance spend at least £11.6 billion from 2021 to 2026, but is still insufficient.

Despite the dearth of new financing for solutions, there is growing momentum behind stopping financing for coal, concluded WRI. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank promised this month that it would end its financing for coal. This builds on last year’s announcement from the African Development Bank that it was moving away from coal investments. Many of the other multilateral development banks (MDBs) have already made that same commitment.

The IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank, published rules last week prohibiting investment in financial institutions that do not have coal exit plans. “IFC standards are widely adopted by private sector lenders, so this move could have a far larger impact than their direct financing,” said WRI. “This also follows a clear trend as we see more private investors, insurers and financial institutions move away from supporting coal, as the economics of new coal no longer makes sense.”

A few nations remain outliers in this shift, said WRI. Japan, South Korea and China have been the main countries still providing coal financing to developing countries through export credits, though with positive signals recently from Japan and South Korea on a shift away from such finance. As president of COP26, the U.K. should take the lead on ending coal and other fossil fuel financing and step up financing for renewables as a solution to deliver energy access, WRI said.