China fails to table new climate action commitments at Cop26 summit

World’s largest greenhouse gas emitter urges parties at climate summit to take strong actions to ‘jointly tackle’ challenge

China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has failed to increase its commitments to address the climate crisis as demanded by other countries at the Cop26 climate summit.

In a written address on Monday to the gathering of world leaders in Glasgow, China's president Xi Jinping called on developed countries to "provide support to help developing countries do better" in dealing with the consequences of global warming.

He also urged all parties to take stronger actions to “jointly tackle the climate challenge”, and said his country would “speed up the green and low-carbon energy transition, vigorously develop renewable energy, and plan and build large wind and photovoltaic power stations”.

Before his arrival in Glasgow, US president Joe Biden said the focus should be on what countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are not doing to address climate change. He called it "disappointing" that those nations "basically didn't show up, in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change".


Earlier, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said Mr Xi would be the only leader to address the “first part of the high-level segment for heads of state and government” in a written statement. He had previously been expected to appear by video link.

China is critical to a Cop26 agreement to ensure a better chance of containing global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees this century. Despite this, Mr Xi, who has not left China since last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, had not been expected to attend the conference in person.


He participated in the G20 summit in Rome over the weekend via video link, and spoke to those there at length about the climate crisis, urging countries to "balance environmental protection and economic development, address climate change and safeguard people's livelihood" – and accepted "major economies should strengthen cooperation in this regard".

In updated pledges, China confirmed to the UN last week it would bring its emissions to a peak before 2030 and cut them to net zero by 2060. It also promised to raise total wind and solar power generation capacity to 1,200 gigawatts by 2030.

However, it was hoped there would be pledges to cap energy consumption and ensure an earlier start to reducing China’s use of coal, currently scheduled to begin in 2026. It has committed, however, to end foreign investment in “unabated” coal-power plants.

Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron asked Mr Xi during a phone call to send the world a "decisive signal" on the climate emergency, according to the French presidency. He also spoke to British prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday, with a Chinese government statement saying the two leaders spoke about topics ranging from bilateral ties to sustainability.


Russia approved a long-term government climate strategy on Monday targeting carbon neutrality by 2060 and rejected US allegations it was not doing enough on climate change.

President Vladimir Putin, leader of the world's fourth largest emitter country, plans to deliver a recorded message at the Glasgow talks, which he is not attending, a Kremlin's spokesman said.

Mr Putin’s absence as well as that of Mr Xi combined with India’s reluctance to move substantially faster to cut reliance on coal and oil threaten to frustrate hopes of reaching the target cuts set in the Paris climate accord – and a successful outcome at Cop26.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times