Study: China can balance economic growth with net-zero goals

The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) has launched its report “China 2050: A Fully Developed Rich Zero-Carbon Economy,” in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). The report shows that it is technically and economically feasible for China to simultaneously become a fully developed economy and reach net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century.

According to the report, to achieve this objective, the investment required can easily be afforded given China’s high savings and investment rate, and the impact on China’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2050 will be minimal.

Committing to achieve zero emissions by 2050 will spur investment and innovation, and it will also deliver large improvements in local air quality and enable China to establish technological leadership across multiple industries.

“For the world to deliver the Paris Climate objectives, it is vital that China has a strategy to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century,” says Adair Turner, chair of the ETC. “Given China’s central role in the global economy, its vast renewable energy resources, and its technological leadership in key industries, China is uniquely positioned to lead the global energy transition and to decarbonize its economy completely by 2050. This report shows how it is technically and economically possible, and describes the actions which policy makers and companies need to take to seize the opportunity.”

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“The report reflects six months of work and covers all sectors of the Chinese economy. It draws upon previous analyses from the ETC and broader literature review. It also integrates feedback from several rounds of consultation with representatives of Chinese companies, academia and institutions, as well as global companies and institutions operating in China,” says Chen Ji, principal of RMI, lead for the Chinese secretariat of ETC.

The report demonstrates how China can reduce final energy demand, while living standards continue to rise. Reduced demand for steel and cement, more circular use of all materials ࢀ”especially plastics ࢀ” and the inherent energy efficiency advantages achieved by the electrifying of surface transport and building heating will enable China to enjoy a GDP per capita and standard of living of three times the current levels while reducing final energy demand from 88 exajoules (EJ) today to 64 EJ in 2050.

Within this projection, the industry sector would experience the most significant reduction (minus 30 per cent) but would continue to account for 60 per cent of final energy demand in 2050.

The report highlights key actions to achieve the zero-carbon target:

  • Accelerate massive increase of renewable electricity generation with capacity improvement on storage, flexibility and demand response
  • The use of electrification, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and bioenergy to achieve full decarbonization of heavy industries
  • Total electrification of surface transport (road and rail services) while supporting a threefold increase in transport use to typical European levels
  • The use of biofuels, synthetic fuels, hydrogen or ammonia to drive decarbonization of long-distance international aviation and shipping, combined with the use of battery electric hydrogen and hybrid options over short distances.
  • A shift toward a more circular economy, with far more efficient use and greater recycling of key materials such as steel, cement, fertilizers and plastics.
  • The wider deployment of advanced heat pump technologies plus state-of-the-art building insulation to deliver heating and cooling to houses

The report also points out that clear targets and forceful public policies are required to achieve the zero-carbon target.

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