Research Reports on China's CO2 Emission Peak and Carbon Neutrality Released in Beijing

Outlining the pathway of achieving emission reduction through China's energy interconnection

On March 18, the Seminar on China's CO2 Emission Peak and Carbon Neutrality—latest findings and results was held in Beijing by GEIDCO. During the event, GEIDCO released the research reports on China’s CO2 emission peak before 2030, carbon neutrality before 2060, and energy and power development plan for 2030 and outlook for 2060. For the first time, a systematic scheme was put forward to achieve carbon reduction via China’s energy interconnection.

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Representatives from relevant government departments, enterprises, institutions and universities gathered at the event to discuss how to have CO2 emission peak and achieve carbon neutrality in China. Their ideas and suggestions are conducive in enhancing climate and environmental governance and facilitating green economic transformation. At the event, Liu Zhenya, Chairman of GEIDCO and Chairman of China Electricity Council (CEC) delivered a keynote speech. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, addressed the event via video. Other speakers include Li Ye, Executive Director-General for Regulation of the National Energy Administration (NEA), Zhao Penggao, Deputy Director of the Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Lu Xinming, Deputy Director General for climate change with China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), and Zhang Zhigang, Executive Vice President of State Grid Corporation of China.

China put forward the goals of having CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060 at the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2020. Based on its years of experience in such fields as clean development, grid interconnection and climatic environment, GEIDCO has conducted an in-depth study on paths to China's carbon emission reduction and solutions to its energy and power transition. In December 2020, it completed three research reports: Research on China's Carbon Emission Peak Target for 2030, Research on China's Carbon-neutrality Target for 2060, China's Energy and Power Development Plan for 2030 and Outlook for 2060. Taking UHV grids as key enabler for China's energy interconnection, the vision of GEIDCO is to accelerate the use of clean alternatives in energy production and the replacement of polluting energy by electricity in consumption (two replacements), make clean energy and electricity dominant in the energy mix (twin dominance), and thereby decouple the energy and power development from carbon and economic and social development from carbon emission (two decoupling).

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Liu Zhenya pointed out that as China's development has long featured high carbon emission intensity and large total emissions, it's an arduous task to peak CO2 emissions in less than 10 years and then to achieve carbon neutrality in about 30 years. As the root cause of carbon emissions lies in the large-scale development and use of fossil fuels, the fundamental solution is to transform the energy development mode and accelerate clean replacement and electricity replacement, thus completely getting rid of the dependence on fossil fuels. To build China's energy interconnection and speed up the "two replacements" are the fundamental ways for the country to hit peak emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.

Liu Zhenya said that China's energy interconnection essentially features "smart grids + UHV grids + clean energy". It is an infrastructural platform for large-scale development, transmission and use of clean energy across the country, and a modern energy system that makes clean energy dominant, puts electricity at the center and achieves interconnection. The development of China's energy interconnection will coordinate economic development and emission reduction. To be specific, China will expedite the large-scale development and consumption of clean energy and the extensive use of electricity, and endeavor to replace fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas with clean energy in all links of energy production and consumption as well as all fields of carbon emissions. It's determined to achieve relevant goals through faster emission reduction in the whole society.

"Accelerating the development of UHV grids is the key to the building of China's energy interconnection. It's crucial for having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality," said Liu. Both the artificial blackouts in China's Hunan, Zhejiang and other places in 2020 and the massive blackout caused by meteorological disasters in Texas in 2021 highlight the extreme importance of large grid interconnection to ensure energy supply and security. Without UHV grids, China's clean energy cannot be developed and utilized on a large scale and the environmental problems like haze and acid rain cannot be fundamentally solved. As a result, it will be difficult to attain the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality. In the long run, China needs to expedite the construction of UHV grids to form a nationwide, widely interconnected, strong and reliable "high-speed power network" as early as possible. That will play a key role in advancing China's green and low-carbon energy transition and achieving the above-mentioned goals.

As stated in the research report by GEIDCO, building energy interconnection in China can be divided into three phases. In the first phase, China will have CO2 emissions peak before 2030. The power sector will be the first to have CO2 emissions peak at the level of 4.5 billion tonnes by 2025, and the energy sector and the whole society will have CO2 emissions peak at the levels of 10.2 billion tonnes and 10.9 billion tonnes by 2028. In the second phase, China will speed up the de-carburization process in 2030-2050. By 2050, the power sector will realize near zero carbon emission, and the energy sector and the whole society will reduce their respective carbon emissions to 1.8 billion tonnes and 1.4 billion tonnes, representing decreases of 80% and 90% compared with the peak levels. In the third phase, China will achieve carbon neutrality in 2050-2060. By around 2055, the whole society will realize net zero carbon emission, accomplishing the goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060. The research report also pointed out that building energy interconnection in China has a marginal cost of carbon emission reduction across the society as a whole of about 260 yuan per tonne, far lower than about 700 yuan per tonne in other schemes around the world.

According to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, we need a clear roadmap that can navigate us towards a net zero future and put the world economy on track towards a green, sustainable recovery and growth. And the research released at this forum will provide a complete, measurable and viable set of solutions for not only China to address climate change, but also act as a reference for other nations to explore new pathways for carbon emissions reduction.

According to China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua, advancing the low-carbon transition in the energy system is a top priority if we want to accomplish the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality. We should combine the goals with the economic and social development, environment protection and energy revolution goals and achieve the high-quality coordinated green, low-carbon and circular development. Meanwhile, he also stressed the importance of energy interconnection as a key measure to accelerate the in-depth de-carbonization process of the energy system and believed the research achievements made by GEIDCO will play a significant role in China's and even the whole world's efforts on low-carbon energy transition and carbon neutrality.

According to NEA's Executive Director-General for Regulation Li Ye, China's pledge to scale up its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) has injected confidence and momentum into global climate change action and received high acclaim and positive response from the international community. With a view to building a power network based on new energy, the NEA will speed up clean energy development and utilization, bring about a change in energy utilization ways, introduce policies in favor of accomplishing the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality, guide local authorities to complete energy conservation and emission reduction tasks, and accelerate accomplishing the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality as well as relevant work.

According to Deputy Director Zhao Penggao from NDRC's Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection, having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality will have a profound impact on China's economic, industrial and energy structures. In the future, the NDRC will focus on the following eight aspects: Vigorously carrying out energy restructuring and advancing the transition to renewable energy sources; promoting deep industrial structural adjustments and making industrial development more eco-friendly; implementing and improving a dual control system of total energy consumption and energy intensity and driving forward energy conservation in key sectors; pursuing breakthroughs in green and low-carbon technologies; completing policies and market systems on green and low-carbon development; promoting green and low-carbon lifestyles; strengthening ecological conservation and restoration; and enhancing international cooperation on climate change.

According to Lu Xinming, Deputy Director General for climate change with the MEE, accomplishing the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality in a short term is more difficult, challenging and arduous for China, the world's largest developing country, compared with those developed countries. In the future, the MEE will focus on working towards the goal of having CO2 emissions peak, speeding up the construction of a national carbon market, formulating and introducing a national strategy of adapting to climate change for 2035, playing an active and leading role in global climate governance, promoting South-South cooperation on climate change, celebrating the National Low-Carbon Day and others.

According to Executive VP of State Grid Zhang Zhigang, for the energy industry, substantially reducing carbon emissions is a responsibility and advancing clean and low-carbon energy transition and promoting sustainable economic and social development is a mission. And for the power grid system, promoting the accomplishment of the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality is an opportunity on the one hand and a challenge on the other hand. Committed to becoming a leader in the clean and low-carbon energy transition, the State Grid has issued a plan on contributing to the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality, put forward to upgrade the power grid system to the energy network, and focused on creating a platform to optimize clean energy allocation, thus striving to establish a world-leading energy network basically by 2025.

At the forum, Yang Kun, Executive Vice Chairman of China Electricity Council (CEC), Yang Yongping, President of North China Electric Power University (NCEPU), Gao Shiji, Director General of Institute for Resources and Environment Policies, Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC), Zhang Yongsheng, Director General of Research Institute for Eco-civilization, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), and Li Junfeng, member of the Board of Directors of China Energy Research Society (CERS) delivered keynote speeches. Revolving around how to accomplish the goals of having CO2 emissions peak and achieving carbon neutrality, they shared their studies and insights on energy restructuring, industrial transition, as well as market and mechanism innovation, discussed together China's medium- and long-term carbon mitigation paths and plans, and made contributions to addressing climate change and realizing high-quality sustainable energy development.

In response to the GEI initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, GEIDCO was initiated as the first international organization dedicated to the energy sector by China. Over the past five years since its foundation, GEIDCO has attracted a total of 1,157 members from 132 countries, fostered partnerships with the United Nations and its agencies, many national governments, international organizations, enterprises and institutions, released more than 50 research findings covering energy, environment, economy, society and other aspects, and turning GEI from concept into a global action.