n April, during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate attended by 40 world leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s pledge to peak its emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Earlier in March, China also set an 18 percent reduction target for CO2 intensity and a 13.5 percent cut in energy intensity (a measure of energy use inefficiency) from 2021 to 2025. But to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2060, more drastic actions are required.
Based on current pledges from carbon peaking to carbon neutrality, it will take the European Union and the US 70 years and 45 years respectively, while China will need to transition in just 30 years. To achieve that, China needs a systemic revolution in its economy.
Some provincial governments and agencies have already taken action. For example, Shandong provincial government released an action plan to phase out or integrate the production of iron and steel, coal-fired power generation and the coking industry. In Shanghai, the government vowed to peak emissions five years ahead of the national schedule of 2030. Regulatory agencies in the iron and steel industry also pledged to peak emissions by 2025.
But many local governments and authorities continue to adopt a passive or opportunistic attitude. Some even view the 10 years until 2030 as a window of opportunity to maximize carbon emissions in their jurisdiction.
China’s leadership must show strong political will to tackle the climate crisis. To achieve carbon neutrality, the power industry, the largest carbon emitter that accounts for 40 percent of China’s total emissions, must be overhauled. Energy-intensive sectors, including iron and steel, cement, chemicals and metals will have to undergo a major transformation. Along with the manufacturing sector, they are responsible for about 45 percent of China’s total national emissions.
It is estimated that between 2020 and 2050, the efforts to achieve carbon neutrality will require investment of 100 trillion yuan (US$15.4t). But rather than an economic burden, the investment will serve as a new source of economic growth in the following decades, presenting an opportunity to upgrade China’s economy into one that is eco-friendly and more efficient.
According to an analysis by Boston Consulting Group, the expenditure can contribute 2-3 percent to China’s GDP in the next 30 years. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that green industries could boost China’s employment by about 0.3 percent.
Other than direct benefits, the application of smart technology in markets such as new energy vehicles will boost the overall technological advances of the economy. A carbon-neutral economy will also help address the problems of pollution and natural disasters, contributing to the establishment of the ecological civilization that is championed by the Chinese leadership.
But making all this possible will take the efforts of the entire nation, including governments at all levels, businesses and the public. China needs to redouble its efforts right now. To clarify how China can achieve its path to carbon neutrality, it could break down its climate targets to provide each sector with a detailed blueprint so it can hold stakeholders accountable.
For China, achieving carbon neutrality will be a challenge of the century, but it can also be an opportunity of the century. China should start taking action as soon as possible.