China surprised the world in September with a pledge to take further action in combating climate change and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The first pledge was made to leaders of the European Union mid-September, then reiterated in President Xi’s speech to the UN General Assembly. Neither announcement provided any details as to how carbon neutrality was supposed to be achieved, however. In light of recent developments that saw China permitting more coal capacity to fuel post-pandemic economic recovery, the government is pointing to a slowing of China’s commitment to an energy transition.
However, more information may become available as the government gears up preparations for the 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP). Consultations, opinion seeking and research has been going on since the end of 2019, involving China’s eminent Academies, ministerial research bodies, independent think tanks, industry associations, and public interest bodies.
As to policies regarding climate change and achieving an “ecological civilization”, there appear to be three main areas:
- Continued reform of the energy market away from coal to non-fossil fuel energy
- High-tech innovation and high quality economic development
- Gradual roll-out of measures starting from regional pilots
General consensus agrees that in order to achieve deep decarbonization, China must continue to reform its energy market and significantly reduce their consumption of coal. Key experts advising the government are calling for an increase of the share of renewable energy with an ultimate long-term goal of 70% to be viable, and a reduction of the share of coal to the global average of 20%. Energy consumption reduction is expected to come mainly from energy efficiency gains from industries such as construction or steel.
A new approach was offered by Wang Yi who recently suggested to replace the energy consumption cap of the 13th FYP with an absolute carbon emissions cap to effectively limit coal consumption without setting constraints for the development of zero-carbon energy sources.
Secondly, China plans to accelerate its development pattern from a rapid one to one of high quality based on higher efficiency and more sustainable drivers of economic growth. Already in the post-pandemic recovery plan, the roles of digitalization and AI have been highlighted. It is expected that the 14th FYP will focus on a digital transformation as an important source of economic growth, including e.g. smart technologies and the digitization and data management in production and energy distribution.
Pan Jiahua foresees a stepwise regional approach to reducing carbon emissions. While some provinces are leading in the zero-carbon development process, achieving net-zero carbon emissions in all of China will be harder. Net-zero carbon goals along with new technologies and processes are currently being tested for maturity in some provinces, then gradually rolled out across China. He suggests further goals regarding the demand-side and for climate resilience (e.g. enhanced carbon sequestration).
Activity Rating: *** Plans are promising but await consistent implementation
Since the end of 2019 the Chinese government has been working on gathering input from different private and public stakeholder groups as part of an opinion forming process within what the Communist Party of China (CPC) calls a “socialist democracy”. The draft of the 14th Five-Year Plan will be discussed at the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC, scheduled for Oct 26-29, 2020. The final version is expected to be approved by legislators at the annual two sessions—the legislative and political advisory gatherings—in March next year. While the 14th FYP addresses broad development challenges, climate change mitigation and the achievement of an “ecological civilization” are expected to remain on the top of the agenda with (1) reduction of coal in the energy mix, (2) energy efficiency measures, and (3) the promotion of relevant innovative technologies at the forefront. According to Pan Jiahua, though, the 14th and 15th FYP will be crucial to achieving carbon neutrality over the next decade. China’s aspiration does not stop at its own doorstep by focusing on the construction of a domestic “ecological civilization”, but China aspires to lead the transformation and development of a global ecological civilization. However, with China continuing to sell, finance, and construct coal-fired power technology to the countries which are part of its Belt-Road-Initiative (BRI), it remains to be seen how true China will be to its claim to promoting a “green development” as part of BRI.
Dear Premier Li,
I commend China on its bold commitment to become carbon neutral by 2060 and take leadership for a global climate transition. We see promising signals in the preparation work for the 14th Five-Year-Plan, which will be critical in laying the foundation for short- and long-term measures to reign in carbon emissions.
It will be essential that any plans to reduce coal consumption and accelerate an energy transition go hand in hand with a clear cap on absolute carbon emissions as well as a cap on carbon equivalent emissions stemming from methane and other greenhouse gases.
In addition, with Five-Year Plans by nature being directional and aspirational, care needs to be taken that any guidance is set out in clear, comprehensive and effective language that limits room for loophole interpretation and provides clear guidelines understood by all players – from government to industry to the individual. It should stipulate clear ideas and a commitment to incentivize the switch from coal power to cleaner or renewable energy, but also lay out the consequences for violators and those trying to circumvent the goals set in the plan.
Premier Li Keqiang / 李克强总理
Learn More Sources:
http://www.europeanchamber.com.cn/en/publications-position-paper (esp. Energy, Environment, Carbon Position Papers)
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard China Country Manager Annette Wiedenbach