Speaking via videolink to the UN General Assembly, President Xi Jinping surprised the world by announcing that China has set a target to become carbon-neutral by 2060.
“We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” he stated, stepping away from the country’s long-term position that, as a developing country, it has limited responsibility to reduce global emissions.
The world’s largest, and growing, energy market, China currently contributes about 28% of global emissions.
According to Wood Mackenzie research director Alex Whitworth, the announcement was framed as a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic and the position of the Trump Administration towards the 2016 Paris Agreement.
Urging reforms in the systems of global governance towards a greener and more sustainable pathway, Xi called on all countries to ‘stop only pursuing development rather than environment protection.’ Clearly for China this needs to start at home, though the signal that China intends to take a greater and more vocal leadership role in global environmental protection was clear, commented Whitworth.
Wood Mackenzie’s Asia Pacific vice chair, Gavin Thompson, noted that, as China’s definition of ‘carbon neutrality’ is not well defined and no roadmap was offered as to how the country plans to achieve this goal, big questions remain.
“But China’s upcoming 14th five-year plan has the potential to be the most important document in global energy market history. Increased investment in wind, solar, electric vehicle and battery storage technology deployment will almost certainly feature, and we can expect support for green hydrogen and carbon capture technology. It won’t of course be the complete roadmap and I expect clean coal will continue to receive strong support,” he said.
“But if any country can achieve such ambitious goals it will be China. Strong state support and coordination have proven extremely effective at reaching economic goals; if this is now directed towards climate change then China is capable in transforming its carbon emissions trajectory over the coming four decades in exactly the same way it has transformed its economy over the past 40 years.”
Prakesh Sharma, Asia Pacific head of markets and transitions, said that China currently emits over 10 billion tonnes of carbon and will need to make significant efforts to reach net-zero without affecting its economic development.
In the Accelerated Energy Transition Scenario recently released by the research bureau, China’s emissions were projected to drop nearly 60% by 2040 from 2019 level using electrification, renewables, green hydrogen and carbon removal technologies.
“We expect China will need to deploy over a billion tonnes carbon, capture and storage capacity across its power and industrial sectors. These efforts will need to start much earlier and at a higher scale to deliver on carbon-neutral goal by 2060,“ he concluded.