China ‘well placed’ to beat its carbon emission targets, experts say

Chinese energy experts are optimistic the country will reach peak carbon emissions by 2025 – five years ahead of the target pledged by President Xi Jinping to the UN General Assembly in September.

Researchers say China’s coal consumption has already reached a plateau and about half of its provinces and municipalities have reached peak emissions, with power and steel industries expected to do so during the 14th five-year plan for 2021-25.

Xi said last year China would reach carbon neutrality by 2060, with its emissions peaking before 2030. He reiterated the pledge at a Politburo meeting on Friday, according to state news agency Xinhua, and stressed that the country always kept its word.

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Xi Jinping makes bold pledge for China to be carbon neutral by 2060

“Achieving peak carbon and carbon neutrality is a solemn commitment to the world and will bring about profound economic and social transformation that is by no means easy,” he said. “High-energy consuming and high-emission projects that do not meet requirements must be resolutely taken down.”

With the US and European Union announcing more aggressive emission reduction targets, China is under increasing international pressure to commit to a more ambitious reduction at the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year.

At last week’s virtual climate summit of world leaders, Xi said China was drawing up a plan and taking strong nationwide action towards reaching peak carbon. This would include support for qualifying localities, key sectors and companies to take the lead, he added.

Zou Ji, president of Energy Foundation China, a non-governmental research group, said the probability of reaching peak emissions nationwide by 2025 was high.

“We have conducted a thorough analysis of the provincial data from 2010 to 2018 and we found 13 provinces and municipalities – which account for 43 per cent of China’s emissions – have reached peak emissions,” he said.

“Another 10 provinces and municipalities, or about 37 per cent of the total emissions, will hit peak emissions by 2025. With provinces and cities that contribute around 80 per cent of China’s emissions ‘having peaked’ or ‘expected to peak before 2025’, there is a high probability China will achieve peak emissions by 2025 nationwide.”

According to Zou, peak emissions have been achieved in some cities and provinces in eastern China, including Beijing, Shanghai, the port city of Tianjin, and Jiangsu province. He added that these areas all had high-income levels, better industrial structures and a robust service sector.

Northeastern provinces, such as Heilongjiang and Jilin, had also achieved peak emissions, Zou said, but this was largely because of the economic recession.

“Provinces with good renewable sources which have adjusted their energy structure make up another group, such as Qinghai,” Zou said.

According to Xinhua, the northwestern province of Qinghai’s total installed power generating capacity reached 40.3 gigawatts last year, with more than 90 per cent coming from clean energy sources. The installed capacity of solar power is 15.8GW, surpassing hydropower to become the largest power source in Qinghai.

The Qinghai-Henan ultra-high-voltage direct current (UHV DC) power transmission project – said to be the first of its kind in the world – started operating on December 30. Stretching 1,587km (986 miles) from the Tibetan Plateau to central Henan province, it is intended to deliver up to 8GW of clean energy, including solar and wind power.

Tracing China’s climate change journey from denial to decarbonisation

China’s energy sectors are also on track, according to Yang Fuqiang, a researcher with the Institute of Clean Energy at Peking University, who noted that China’s coal consumption had not increased since 2013. Yang said he expected the share of coal in the energy mix would be reduced to 48 per cent by about 2025, about a nine per cent drop compared with 2020.

Xi committed at the virtual climate summit that China would hit peak coal consumption by 2025 before it would begin to decline.

Yang said China’s crude oil consumption would reach a peak of 730 million tonnes by 2025, while natural gas consumption would continue to increase and peak by 2030, although the increase in emissions from natural gas would be lower than the reduction from coal and oil.

“If the two main fossil fuels can achieve peak emissions by 2025, I think China has a high probability to hit peak emissions by 2025,” he said, adding that most energy experts agreed with this forecast.

Yang said the 2030 target looked conservative because the government’s plan should not be built on “probabilities” and policymakers wanted to make promises they could fully achieve.

Observers do not expect China to announce new climate targets before the Glasgow climate change conference in November, but said Beijing could make detailed domestic climate policies under its existing pledges.

“China can recentralise the authority to approve new coal-fired power plants from provincial governments to the central government, or announce a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants domestically,” Yang said.

On the energy demand side, some sectors are also expected to achieve peak emissions by 2025.

There is almost consensus among energy experts that the power sector, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions, could hit peak emissions by 2025. This can be achieved by increasing the share of renewables, adjusting the power grid and developing energy storage devices.

Climate change: Chinese emissions scheme brings air of optimism

The steel sector, which accounts for 15 per cent of China’s total carbon emissions, is expected to hit peak emissions before 2025 and achieve an emissions cut of 30 per cent from peak by 2030, according to the steel industry’s draft peak emissions action plan which is under review.

Li Xinchuang, chief engineer of the Beijing-based China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute, which helped to draft the action plan, said the trend was towards development of mini steel mills – which usually use an electric arc furnace to produce steel from recycled scrap.

“China’s electric arc furnace steelmaking capacity only accounts for 10.4 per cent of total capacity, in stark comparison to the 70 per cent in the United States and 30 per cent of the world’s average level,” Li said at a meeting in mid-April.

China announced on Wednesday it would apply a provisional zero import tax rate on certain steel products and raw materials from Saturday, including pig iron, crude steel and recycled steel raw materials. Export tariffs on ferrosilicon, ferrochrome and high-purity pig iron will be raised to 25 per cent, 20 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

The State Council’s tariff commission said the effort was intended to push the upgrading and transformation of the steel industry.

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