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COP 26 - have China and the U.S. made progress on climate change?

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

China – the world’s largest CO2 emitter — is central to the global effort to decarbonise, but its current situation is mixed.

It is the world’s largest producer of renewable energy; it exports more solar than any other country; and it has the largest fleet of electric vehicles.

On the other hand, it also consumes the most coal, is the world’s biggest importer of oil and produces around one-third of the world’s CO2 emissions.

China did recently promise to stop financing coal-fired power plants overseas; following that up with a pledge to stop building coal-fired power plants at home would be a success.

The U.S. – the second-largest emitter – has been an unreliable partner, flopping back and forth on signing the Paris Agreement under the Trump and Biden administrations.

Now back on board, the Biden administration has set ambitious targets and wants others to up their climate game, but these pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears unless the White House is able to point to new domestic climate legislation.

The challenges facing emerging markets

Since it is by no means guaranteed that even wealthy countries can achieve net zero carbon, with their greater technology and financial resources, the challenge for emerging markets is huge.

Large emerging markets such as India – which last week pledged to hit net zero by 2070 – will need to increase the efficiency of economic activity from low levels of economic development, meaning that they will need to leapfrog certain technologies. This is not impossible, given the fall in price of onshore wind and solar.

The falling cost of green solutions is a relentlessly hammered home at COP26; and emerging markets like India, Indonesia and South Africa will be asked to set more ambitious emission-reduction targets and to embrace renewable energy in a bigger way.

Emerging markets will need and ask for more technological and financial assistance to help them achieve this.

How to deal with legacy assets and manage the transition in low-income countries that are heavily dependent on exporting fossil fuels, such as Algeria and Nigeria, will also be an important topic.

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