This report is in the form of memos from Climate Scorecard Country Managers to Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework to Combat Climate Change (UNFCCC). Below is a description of the progress the country has made made in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 and the challenges they still face in order to comply with the IPCC goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030.
To: Patricia Espinosa
Subject: Climate Scorecard Progress Report for China
From: Annette Wiedenbach
Climate Scorecard China Country Manager
Based on my two-decade long involvement with China, both academically as well as professionally, I serve as Climate Scorecard Country Manager for China. In this capacity, I would like to offer you my insights on the climate mitigation progress of China.
Since its initial 2015 pledge to the Paris Agreement, China has made good progress in meeting its original goals: lowering CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40 – 45% from 2005 levels, adjusted a few years later to a target of 60% – 65% by 2030; to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and increasing the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level. These targets have been further strengthened in China’s recently updated pledge, now aiming to achieve CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060; to lower CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by over 65% from 2005 levels; to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25%, to increase the forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters from the 2005 level, and to bring its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1.2 billion kilowatts by 2030. While China has never committed to reducing total CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030, it has clearly followed through on their set goals with a number of policies and actions.
First and foremost, the Chinese national government has increasingly recognized environmental degradation and climate mitigation as a major threat to prosperity and social welfare. Environmental protection and climate change mitigation as well as resilience have moved to the center of the government’s 13th and 14th National Five-Year Plans and concomitant sector plans. The concept of ecological civilization coined by President Xi himself has since 2012 become the guiding political philosophy in decision making.
In July 2021, China finally kicked-off its Emissions Trading System after seven years of piloting, thus creating the world’s largest carbon market. The initial phase includes more than 2,000 power sector companies and a clear roadmap defines eventual inclusion of more than 6,000 companies from seven industrial sectors.
Tied in with the carbon market are increased efforts to set up green financing mechanisms to support China’s proclaimed goal of upgrading its industry from heavy reliance on cheap labour production to high-quality advanced manufacturing.
On the energy side, China has made great efforts to ramp up renewable energy forms in its energy mix and to reduce its reliance on coal to under 57% of the total mix. Renewable energy includes solar, wind and hydro power, as well as biomass-based energy. A policy of subsidies and financial support for research and investment in solar and wind have pushed China to become the largest market for solar and wind energy.
China also leads in electrification of its transport system, having provided over years clear targets for charging infrastructure, battery, and e-vehicle production. Subsidies as well as both national and local government programs have helped create the world’s largest electric vehicle market. Most recently, some of the government’s post-COVID stimulus money went into encouraging consumers to spend on buying electric cars and to trade in combustible engine cars. On a smaller scale, China has started to embark on a hydrogen strategy to fuel heavy transport.
The government has also set a heavy focus on promoting energy efficiency measures in all industries, from construction to the manufacturing sector. Over the past decade, China’s National Building Code has been increasingly mandating energy efficiency measures for any new residential development. Energy efficiency measures have also become mandatory; for instance, the chemical industry is lowering primary energy consumption and thus reducing carbon emissions. These measures have among others led to a continued decline of overall carbon intensity by around 4% per year.
China has also been stepping up its efforts to rehabilitate its lost grassland and forest areas. Afforestation and re-greening to create carbon sinks have gained increasing traction in addition to the original intention to limit the expansion of deserts and mitigate sand storms. While some efforts in the past can be criticized as having had negative side effects where monoculture forests or plantations led to the exacerbation of climate related damage, the mindset has shifted to look at best-practices where local community knowledge and the local endemic plant situation are being taken into consideration.
And last but not least, China has begun to embrace the concept of Gross Ecological Product to measure development over Gross Domestic Product. Pilot cities like Shenzhen have started to adopt and trial new ways of measuring development other than by monetary means.
All of these initiatives are meaningful parts in the roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2060. At the same time, past experience has shown that scaling-up, roll-out and speedy implementation poses challenges and may threaten China’s ability to make further progress.
Given the absence of an absolute carbon emissions cap and the focus on carbon intensity as a target, means that overall carbon emissions may rise as long as China’s overall industrial production increases. Only a clear cap on carbon emissions (especially with regards to the expected peak before 2030) coupled with an all-encompassing and mandatory monitoring system of carbon emissions from industrial and agricultural production, as well as consumption and transportation, are imperative to provide the necessary guardrails to measure progress.
Hampering progress has also been the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that the central government has so far embraced to ensure implementation of policies and regulations. Haphazard and undifferentiated enforcement of policies and regulations by not fully trained and educated local or regional governments has led to obstruction of otherwise compliant local businesses and activities, to the detriment to local livelihoods. Local and regional governments have to be empowered and given the capacity to make implementation decisions based on the local situation and with the support of local communities.
Several structurally weak provinces continue to rely on coal and coal-related industries for employment. Enforcing the necessary transition from a heavy coal-reliant economic structure to new, cleaner industry and employment opportunities will need to go hand-in-hand with a broad, nationwide compensation or reskilling and training program to support workers in their transition to greener jobs where their current skill set is insufficient.
These are some of the challenges that China faces on its path to climate neutrality. Climate Scorecard is committed to working with other like-minded organizations to support efforts by China to make further progress in its effort to reduce emissions and help the Paris Agreement reach its important goals.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this report or need further information.