China’s emissions on track to peak by mid-2020s

China’s existing policies put its CO2 emissions on track to peak by the mid-2020s, ahead of its stated target of 2030, but Beijing has the capacity to accelerate its transition to clean energy sources and reach carbon neutrality before 2060, the IEA said today.

Existing targets in China’s latest five-year plan for 2021-25, if met, will result in CO2 emissions from fuel consumption hitting a plateau in the middle of this decade and then undergoing a modest decline by 2030, the IEA said as it released a new report, An Energy Sector Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality in China.

But “China has the means and capabilities to accomplish an even faster clean energy transition that would result in greater social and economic benefits for the Chinese people and also increase the world’s chances of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said.

The energy sector is responsible for almost 90pc of China’s greenhouse gas emissions. The country’s existing policies rely on energy efficiency, growth in renewables and cuts to coal use to achieve peak CO2 emissions by 2030. The current trajectory, in the IEA’s Announced Pledges Scenario (APS), sees solar becoming the country’s largest primary energy source by around 2045, while demand for coal, oil and natural gas fall by 80pc, 60pc and 45pc respectively by 2060 compared with last year.

Around one-fifth of China’s electricity is used to generate hydrogen by 2060 in this scenario. The power sector achieves net-zero emissions by 2055, while coal’s share drops from over 60pc now to just 5pc in 2060. Unabated coal use drops by 90pc and industrial sector emissions fall by 95pc by 2060, with the remainder offset by negative emissions in the power and fuel transformation sectors. Emerging technologies, such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), drive cuts to industrial emissions after 2030.

But China has the technical capacity, economic means and policy experience to go faster, as its new emissions trading scheme (ETS) and power market reforms show, the IEA said. Under its Accelerated Transition Scenario (ATS), energy sector CO2 emissions in 2030 are more than 2 gigatonnes (GT) or almost 20pc lower than today thanks to a faster decline in coal use, stronger deployment of existing low-carbon technologies and quicker efficiency gains.

In this scenario, CO2 emissions go into marked decline after 2025, opening up the possibility for China to reach carbon neutrality well before 2060. The share of non-fossil fuels in the primary energy mix increases from 15pc in 2020 to 26pc by 2030, compared with 23pc in the APS. The share of coal in total electricity generation falls from 63pc in 2020 to 38pc over the same period, nine percentage points lower than in the APS.

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