context: Tsinghua University was instrumental in formulating China’s nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. Twenty days after Xi Jinping announced China’s carbon neutrality target, a Tsinghua-led report again plotted China’s decarbonization scenarios.

On the report’s launch, National Committee of Experts on Climate Change deputy director He Jiankun 何建坤 noted that

  • China’s goal of 2060 carbon neutrality will require greater efforts than developed countries’ goal of 2050 carbon neutrality
  • Europe and the US have a 50-70 year transition period from carbon peak to carbon neutrality, while China has only 30 years
  • after 2030, China’s annual emission reduction rate must average 8-10 percent, far exceeding that in developed countries

The report shows that

  • China’s low-carbon development transformation faces huge challenges
    • manufacturing industry is still at the middle and low end of the global value chain
    • in industrial upgrading, macroeconomic restructuring faces tough tasks
    • energy intensity of GDP is 1.4 times world average, and 2-3 times that of developed countries
    • coal consumption accounts for 50 percent of energy use, and carbon emissions intensity is about 30 percent higher than world average

The report outlines four decarbonization scenarios for China:

  1. Policy Scenario: China achieving its NDCs (nationally determined contributions)
  2. Enhanced Policy Scenario: China achieving comparable targets to other countries’ enhanced NDCs under the Paris Agreement
  3. 2°C Scenario: China contribution comparable to global deep decarbonization by mid-21st century
  4. 1.5°C Scenario: China contribution comparable to global carbon neutrality and deep non-carbon greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation by mid- 21st century

The report recommends that to reach carbon neutrality in 2060, China needs to

  1. follow the Enhanced Policy Scenario to 2030 and quickly move towards the 1.5°C Scenario thereafter
  2. reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions and reduce total GHG emissions by 90 percent by 2050
  3. enhance non-GHG mitigation, carbon sink and carbon direct removal (CDR) from the atmosphere

The report finds

  1. the 1.5°C Scenario requires additional investment of around ¥C138 tn, equivalent to 2.5 percent of GDP per annum
  2. transformation of the energy system will bring new economic growth drivers and employment opportunities, as the number of employees per unit of production capacity in renewables is 1.5-3.0 times that of the traditional energy industry