Chinese President Xi Jinping has put the development of an “ecological civilization” at the core of his policies and he is calling other nations to embark on a “green revolution” as part of global recovery efforts. China’s ambitious climate action plan is at the core of the nation’s most recent five-year plan. President Xi has indicated that China’s emissions will peak before 2030 and the nation will be carbon neutral by 2060. To achieve these goals China will need to massively increase clean energy infrastructure alongside equally massive reductions in the nation’s reliance on fossil fuel.
Decarbonization is at the center of Chinese efforts to reduce emissions and China is already the global leader and the projections contained in the By definition, decarbonization implies transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered energy production to clean sources of energy. Due to its massive domestic demand, China can continue to leverage economies of scale and bring price-competitive products to the global market. This positions China to capitalize on the new emerging global market for decarbonization that will help the nation to continue to grow its domestic renewable energy capacity.
As reported by Bloomberg, Tsinghua University’s Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy, which works closely with the Chinese government, released a report that explores how China’s energy mix will have to change to achieve its national objectives. This report also indicates that China will need to focus on steel and cement production, air travel, petrochemicals, and fertilizer.
China’s share of global electricity generated by solar jumped from 2 percent in 2010 to 32 percent in 2018. The Tsinghua report projects that Chinese fossil fuel use will decline, while solar is projected to see a 600 percent increase. China is already a major player in the production of solar energy, producing a total of 40 percent of the world’s new solar power generation capacity. President Xi has vowed to boost his nation’s installed capacity of wind and solar power to more than 1,200 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. He has also said he wants to increase the share of alternative energy in primary energy consumption to around 25 percent by 2030.
As of 2019, China had combined accumulative installed solar and wind capacity of around 414 GW, and according to state planners by the end of 2021 that total is expected to be around 480 GW. The report from researchers at Tsinghua University project a 587 percent increase in solar energy generation between 2025 and 2060 and nuclear power is expected to increase by around 500 percent.
China is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter but the country is expected to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. This means peaking its carbon emissions before 2030. The country has also pledged to increase its intended nationally determined contributions (INDC). “China will scale up its intended Nationally Determined Contributions (to the Paris agreement) by adopting more vigorous policies and measures,” President Xi said at the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly in September. He also urged all countries to pursue a “green recovery of the world economy in the post-COVID era.” Xi’s plan will see a reduction in carbon intensity (CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product), by more than 65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and the nation will be carbon neutral before 2060.
As reported by the Guardian, Thom Woodroofe, a former climate diplomat and senior adviser at the Asia Society described China’s emission reduction pledges as a “gamechanger”. “For the first time ever there is now a clear long-term trajectory for decarbonization in China,” Woodroofe said.
However, for China to zero-out the CO2 from remaining fossil fuel sources, the country will need to massively scale up carbon capture and storage, and this represents an enormous challenge. However, as demonstrated by its dominance of the solar energy industry China has demonstrated its technological capabilities. China’s global leadership in high-speed rail is another good illustration. They have built the world’s largest high-speed rail network, which stretches over 37,000 kilometers, and the fastest commercially operating train (the Shanghai maglev which has a top speed of 431 kph). A new Chinese maglev prototype is capable of reaching speeds of 620 kilometers per hour. These high-speed train networks have reduced the environmental and climate impacts of air travel. To meet its emissions reduction targets Chinese technology will need to do the same in carbon capture.
Despite these challenges, the Chinese announcements offer grounds for optimism. For the first time in history, the world’s three largest greenhouse gas polluters (China, the U.S., and the EU) are all embarking on serious emissions reduction programs. The EU has pledged to cut emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The new American administration is committed to eliminating carbon emission in the power sector by 2030 and zeroing out emissions by 2050.
These pledges breathe new life into the prospects for actions that live up to the intent of the Paris Climate Agreement. It also buoys hope for the next UN climate summit known as COP26 which is scheduled to take place in Glasgow Scotland in November. Many expert commentators have indicated that this is our last chance to get back on track to meet the goals laid out in Paris.
To keep average global temperatures from exceeding the upper threshold limit of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial norms, wealthy nations will have to zero-out emissions by 2050, and developing nations will need to do the same by 2060. To get there we will need to see big increases in INDCs around the world and dramatic reductions in emissions in the coming years.
“Xi Jinping’s commitment to peak emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060 is very welcome. The leadership from Beijing, Brussels, and capitals across the developing world should give us all confidence as we prepare for Cop26 next year,” Laurence Tubiana is quoted as saying in the Guardian, adding this “will certainly help turn a challenging year for the environment around and mark it as the beginning of a reinvigorated round of global climate efforts.” Tubiana is one of the architects of the Paris Agreement and she is currently the CEO of the European Climate Foundation (ECF).
The incredible scale of China’s pledge was explained by Varun Sivaram, a senior research scholar at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “It would be the most herculean thing ever accomplished in human history, “Silvaram told Grist. “If the United States were to go to net-zero by 2050, it would be great, but it would be far less impressive than China going net-zero by 2060.”
We will never be able to keep temperatures within acceptable limits without China. So what happens in the People’s Republic has global repercussions. According to Yahoo News, Todd Stern, U.S. climate envoy under the Obama administration, China’s announcements are”big and important news” but he said they will have to do far more if they want to meet their targets.
China is still building coal power plants both at home and abroad and if they are serious about meeting their targets, they will need to drastically scale back these plans. As reported by Reuters, China is building coal power at an ever-accelerating rate. China currently has 247 GW of coal power under construction and the country’s coal-fired capacity has tripled in the last couple of years.