Xi’s carbon neutrality vow will reshape China’s five-year plan

Chinese leaders will discuss ambitious new measures to tackle climate change on Monday at a government plenum to finalise a new five-year national development plan, after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to make the country “carbon neutral” by 2060.

Policymakers are under pressure to include radical climate targets in the new 2021-2025 five-year plan, with the COVID-hit economy weighing on their decisions.

Experts say China needs to bring the share of coal in its total energy mix from 58 percent last year to less than 50 percent by 2025, and provide enhanced support for technology like carbon capture.

It could start by setting an absolute emissions cap for the first time, said Zou Ji, head of the Energy Foundation China, which has been involved in five-year plan research.

“Our recommendation is to establish a target to control total carbon emissions (by 2025),” he said at a conference last week.

Not a ‘side issue’

Since 2019, China has made energy security a major priority, with the government supporting an increase in fossil fuel output and reviving coal-fired power projects.

Beijing also bet on new infrastructure to drive its economic recovery, and official data showed a spike in demand for energy-intensive products like steel and cement.

But China now has to rethink its plans, government researchers said.

He Jiankun, vice director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, said Beijing must cap emissions and even achieve “negative growth” in coal consumption by 2025.

China would need to stop building and financing all new coal-fired plants, Zou said, a move that would affect plans for an additional 300 gigawatts that are in the pipeline.

In comments circulated on social media, Li Tianxiao of the Development Research Center, a cabinet think-tank, predicted China would need to double wind and solar capacity to approximately 500 gigawatts each by 2025.

China has little time to spare. Consultancy Wood Mackenzie said solar, wind and storage capacities would have to rise 11-fold by 2050, while coal-fired power must halve.

“The most challenging part of the shift is not the investment or magnitude of renewable capacity additions but the social transition that comes with it,” said Wood Mackenzie analyst Prakash Sharma.

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