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U.S. should follow EU and China in setting carbon-neutral target - U.N.'s WMO

FILE PHOTO: Smoke and steam rise from a steel plant in Anyang, Henan province, China, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States should join the European Union and China in setting ambitious goals to become carbon neutral, the head of the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday.

President Xi Jinping announced at the U.N. General Assembly last month that China aimed to become carbon neutral by 2060, while the European Union has pledged to achieve such status by 2050.

“All in all I think that this announcement is great, since at least European Union countries and China are now sharing common reason, that’s very good news. And I hope that also the U.S. will join that club in the near future,” Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, told a briefing in Geneva.

Xi used the U.N. lectern to call for multilateral action on climate change after President Donald Trump called the Paris climate agreement - with nearly 200 signatories - a one-sided accord and criticised China for being the world’s largest carbon emitter.

“If we fail with climate mitigation then we would see problems which are of a very different magnitude when it comes to human suffering and also economic losses,” Taalas said.

“Also in the United States there has been good progress especially the private sector, and several states have been investing in climate-friendly technologies,” he added.

Global temperatures will continue to warm over the next five years, and may even temporarily rise to more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the WMO said in July. Scientists have set 1.5C (2.7 Fahrenheit) as the ceiling for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Responding to a question from Chinese Central Television, Taalas said: “China is contributing 25% of the global emissions and one of your major challenges is that your energy production is very much based on coal-fired power plants.”

But China has made record investments in renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy, and has become a significant exporter of such technology worldwide, he said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kirsten Donovan