China, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, says that it has already reached its 2020 goal for reducing carbon dioxide emissions* set under the Paris climate agreement, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.

The government said that carbon emissions as a unit of gross domestic product have fallen by 46% compared with 2005 levels, while the 2020 goal was a 40% reduction.

The announcement was made Monday by Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change, at the country’s Green Carbon Summit, according to The Hill.

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*But, here's where the asterisk comes in: the way the achievement is framed obscures the fact that China hasn’t actually reduced aggregate carbon emissions.

Instead, the country’s carbon emissions are increasing at a rate that’s slower than the economy’s growth — hence the “as a unit of GDP” framework.

While that means China’s economy is becoming more efficient, it doesn’t mean it has reached “peak carbon,” the point at which a country’s emissions begin to decline.

China currently emits more carbon than the US and Europe combined.

Read More: How the US Is Actually a Bigger Climate Change Offender Than China

The country plans to max out carbon emissions by 2030, according to The Hill, and will continue to burn more fossil fuels in the meantime.

But if the government continues to pour money into renewable energy and efficiency measures, then this target may also be reached ahead of schedule.

Zhenhua said that the country was able to reach its 2020 goal thanks to a carbon trading program it put in place in 2011 that required manufacturing companies in several states to limit their emissions. That program was rolled out to the rest of the country last year, according to The New York Times.  

The government has also begun to invest heavily in renewable energy.

Read More: China Unveils Massive Clean Energy Plan Amid Natural Gas Shortages

In the last year, China announced a $361 billion clean energy investment plan, shuddered pollution-heavy factories, called for the end of gasoline-powered cars, and assumed a more prominent role in global climate talks.

Despite these advances, China has been criticized for not doing enough to mitigate climate change and many environmental advocates hope that the country will set more ambitious targets under the Paris agreement.

Global Citizen campaigns on the UN’s Global Goals, which call for countries to invest in renewable energy. You can take action on this issue here.


Defend the Planet

China Reaches 2020 Emissions Target* More Than 600 Days Ahead of Schedule

By Joe McCarthy