How China Plans to Become Carbon-Neutral by 2060
(Bloomberg) -- China’s industrialization has occurred at a breathtaking pace, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and transforming the country into the world’s factory floor. That’s also made it the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change. The most-populous nation has set itself the ambitious goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2060, a challenging target given it hasn’t even reached its emissions peak. To get there, President Xi Jinping wants to transition away from an economy reliant on coal and other fossil fuels by switching to renewable energy and developing new technology to capture emissions.
1. What is carbon neutral?
It means cutting as much of your carbon dioxide emissions as possible and then offsetting what you can’t eliminate. For a country, this could mean switching to renewable energy such as solar power instead of coal and investing in projects that absorb carbon dioxide, such as reforestation. Carbon neutral has become a goal of companies and countries alike to address public concerns about the impact emissions have on the climate.
2. What is China’s goal?
Even though China is the world’s second-largest economy, it’s still classified as a developing nation and hasn’t reached its emissions peak. That’s forecast to come by 2030, with Xi committing to carbon neutrality by 2060, 10 years after the U.S. deadline set by President Joe Biden. If China pulls it off, it would be the fastest decline from peak emissions among major economies, speedier than Europe’s goal of 70 years and the U.S. target of 40 years. China’s plan, which the country’s climate envoy said includes all greenhouse gases and not just carbon dioxide, would boost global efforts to limit the rise in temperatures and potentially give it greater sway in global matters.
3. What needs to be done?
China has to find replacements for the fossil fuels that have powered its economy and rapid urbanization. A key early step was taken in July when China opened the world’s largest carbon trading market, creating a framework for how emissions are priced and regulated in the country. It’s already pushing the expansion of electric vehicles and automation while investing in nuclear power, which doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. There is more spending on research into technologies such as storage batteries and using hydrogen as a fuel to complement low-emissions energy sources. The government will have develop more wind and solar power projects so that coal-fired plants play a smaller role in generating electricity. Local authorities have been told to develop regional plans to lower emissions and some have already taken measures to curb what they perceive as wasteful uses of electricity, such as Bitcoin mining.
4. How will this affect economic policy?
The ruling Communist Party of China has an overarching goal of creating a “great modern socialist country” to ensure a prosperous life for its citizens. That’s a mantra that has required continuous economic growth and led to increased pollution. Breaking the link between growth and emissions will require policies that take aim at fossil fuels and encourage development of renewable energy. Monetary policy will need to be adjusted if the transition causes inflationary pressure. Beijing will also need to support vulnerable sectors and regional economies during the decarbonization process. For example, the coal industry in Shanxi contributes 20% of the province’s revenue, according to PingAn Securities chief economist Zhong Zhengsheng.
5. What will be the economic impact?
Services and high-technology will have to boost their contribution to the economy, a move that could unleash investment demand of as much as 300 trillion yuan ($46.3 trillion), according to the People’s Bank of China. The central bank has said a big chunk of the funds will come from market investors but a policy framework encouraging private investment will be important. That is in addition to cleaner air, improved road safety and prevention of potential climate damage that the World Bank said could be worth 3.5% of gross domestic product by 2030. Such benefits have to be weighed against the impact on ordinary Chinese people of an economic restructuring that phases out jobs in carbon-emitting sectors, with the coal mining and processing industry employing 3.5 million workers alone.
6. Who are the biggest losers?
China’s 2,200 electricity utilities powered by fossil fuels, a group that accounts for almost half of the carbon China spews into the atmosphere and 14% of the world’s total, are among the first to feel the impact through the country’s carbon market. Power is one of the eight industries that account for nearly 90% of its carbon emissions, a group that also includes steel, construction materials and transport, according to a report by China International Capital Corp. Eliminating their dependence on fossil fuels will require a move to cleaner sources such as wind and solar and spending on mitigation measures or carbon offsets. Regional Chinese economies that rely heavily on fossil fuel production, such as Shanxi and Inner Mongolia provinces, will also be affected.
7. Who stands to benefit?
Electric-vehicle makers are one of the high-profile beneficiaries of China’s plan thanks to government subsidies. Beijing has set a target of having new-energy vehicles account for 20% of sales by 2025 compared with 6% in 2020. Utilities that make the shift to renewable sources will also benefit, along with providers of services such as emission measurement and carbon trading, according to Nannan Kou, head of China research for BloombergNEF. Other winners could include makers of photovoltaic systems, recycling firms and producers of new materials and non-ferrous metals for electric vehicle assembly.
8. What role will the central bank play?
China’s goal of carbon neutrality is shared across China’s key institutions and is a top priority for the PBOC. The central bank removed so-called clean-coal projects from its definitions of green bonds while pledging to revamp tools so it can offer cheap funds for banks to encourage more environmentally focused loans. Regulators also plan to adjust the rules on capital adequacy and how it counts green assets. At the end of March, China’s outstanding green loans stood at 14 trillion yuan, an amount set to expand at a rapid pace.
9. Will private banks play a role?
Banks will need to change who they lend to and balance how their loans mesh with Beijing’s climate ambitions. The high capital cost of building power plants, steel mills and factories mean companies in those sectors often carry significant financing needs and any rapid change could affect their ability to manage credit risks, according to Zhou Xuedong, executive vice president at National Development Bank and a former senior PBOC official. He said a climate-change stress test for financial institutions will be necessary.
The Reference Shelf
- Related QuickTakes on China’s carbon market, Biden’s goal of creating a green electricity grid and why hydrogen is becoming important.
- A Bloomberg graphic showing the price of carbon around the world as of April 1, 2018, and the share of each country’s economy covered by the charges.
- A World Bank report on trends in carbon pricing.
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