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The biggest emitter of planet-warming pollution managed to take almost the whole world by surprise. In a September speech to the United Nations, Chinese President Xi Jinping put a 2060 end date on his country’s contribution to global warming.

No other nation can do more to keep warming below the 1.5C threshold set in the Paris agreement. Yet diplomats, climate activists, and even policy experts inside China for the most part had not anticipated this pivotal turnabout.

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