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In his video address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a slight improvement of China’s 2015 Paris climate agreement pledge: national carbon dioxide emissions should now peak before 2030 rather than around 2030. That might not seem like much, but, paired with Xi’s additional declaration that China aims to be carbon neutral before 2060, the address sent positive shock waves through the climate-policy world.

Decades of impressive GDP growth have made China the world’s second-largest economy, bigger than the next three (Japan, Germany, and India) combined. But the outside world still often associates China with coal dependence, rising CO2 emissions, and polluted air — and rightly so.

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