In the wake of yet another bout of devastating smog, China announced today that it plans cut its power sector emissions 60% by 2020, a promise that puts the US Clean Power Plan to shame. If fulfilled, the pledge would make a major dent in global carbon pollution.

China’s cabinet made the announcement at the COP21 summit, where leaders from 196 countries are meeting to strike the most ambitious climate accord in history, one that could dramatically curtail carbon emissions over the next several decades to avoid dangerous climate change. China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, has a big role to play in the success of COP21, and our ability to limit global warming at large.

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The world’s second largest carbon offender—the United States—might have felt like it was making a big concession when it promised to cut power plant carbon emissions by a third by 2030, but clearly, we’ve just been put in our place. (Then again, analysts say that the stricter emissions rules China has imposed in recent years are in part a result of peer pressure from their ol’ pals in America.)

China will also reduce its annual carbon emissions from coal fired power plants by 180 million tonnes by 2020, The Guardian reports. Coal is the real culprit behind China’s choking air pollution, which, in addition to warming the planet, poses a major public health risk by contributing to a slew of respiratory problems.

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Reducing coal use will go hand-in-hand with growing the clean energy sector. China has spent the last several years investing heavily in wind and solar power, and in its pledge leading up to COP21, the carbon giant promised to source 20% of its energy from renewables by 2030. The ambitious goal announced today suggests that more of China’s energy could come from renewable sources even sooner.

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Hopefully, with the world’s largest carbon polluter doubling down on eliminating coal, other nations (cough) will be motivated to increase their carbon pledges, too. As UN Secretary General Ba Ki-moon said at the outset of the Paris summit Monday, “We have never faced such a test [as climate change]. But neither have we encountered such great opportunity.”

[The Guardian]


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Top image: Smog in China this week, via AP