Ahead of COP26 in October 2021, China officially submitted its carbon neutrality “before 2060” target and updated NDC targets to the UNFCCC, strengthening its previous non-fossil share and carbon intensity targets, while adding a new renewable energy capacity target.
In our updated analysis of the new NDC targets, we find that China has made an improvement on its previous NDC targets, but still leaves room for further ambition as we project that China, under its current policy projections, is still within reach of meeting the new targets without substantial increases in mitigation efforts. That said, these announcements were a welcome move after a year of carbon-intensive COVID-19 stimulus recovery. The bottom line is that the new NDC target is “Highly insufficient” and if all countries followed the level of ambition implicit in this development, it would lead to a warming of 3oC degrees globally.
China’s long-awaited 14th Five Year Plan (14th FYP), published in March 2021, included 2025 energy and carbon intensity reduction targets, as well as a mid-point non-fossil share target to achieve its NDC.
At the Leaders Climate Summit in April 2021, President Xi Jinping announced that China will strictly control coal generation until 2025 when it will start to gradually phase out. We estimate China’s emissions to be 13.8 GtCO2e in 2020, while its current policies projections would reach 13.2 to 14.5 GtCO2e in 2030, meaning that China is within range to overachieve its existing 2030 non-fossil and carbon intensity NDC targets off the back of its recent policies. Once again, though, we find that China's current policies are “insufficient” to meet the Paris agreements 1.5oC limit, and more consistent with a global warming of 3oC.
Under these projections, China would also be within the range of achieving its newly proposed, but “Highly insufficient” non-fossil and renewable capacity NDC targets, representing an opportunity to enhance those draft targets before formally submitting to the UNFCCC. Forthcoming sector and climate plans from the 14th FYP are expected to give more clarity on sectoral policies and near-term climate ambition.
China’s Long-term low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy (LT-LEDS) submitted in October 2021 suggests that the carbon neutrality target is covering CO2 only, not all other greenhouse gases, contrary to previous announcements. This would be a step backwards, as CAT previously assumed it would be covering all greenhouse gases. Due to the size of China’s emissions, this difference can make up to 0.1°C more or less warning in 2100.
The CAT gives China an overall rating of “Highly Insufficient”. China’s climate commitments in 2030 are also rated as “Highly Insufficient” when compared to fair share, as emission levels expected under the most binding peaking and non-fossil share NDC targets are compatible with warming levels of between 3 °C and 4 °C by the end of the century, if all countries followed this ambition. For the purposes of this rating system, we treat China's NDC commitment as unconditional, as it has not indicated a level of ambition that would be achieved with international support (conditional NDC target).
China’s climate policies and action rates better at “Insufficient”, as the upper bound of its emissions pathway in its current policy projections has decreased due to energy sector policy developments. However, the rating still indicates that national policies are consistent with domestic pathways associated with 3°C and could lead to rising, rather than falling, emissions.
To improve on its rating and become compatible with 2 °C (“Almost sufficient”), China would need to peak emissions as early as possible, and decrease coal and other fossil fuel consumption at a much faster rate than currently planned - and set clear phase-out timelines. China’s proposed NDC update is only a slight improvement from its first NDC and does not result in an improvement in the CAT’s rating, even if officially submitted; China needs to adopt more ambitious medium-term climate targets to match its long-term net-zero goal.
According to our analysis, China is within reach of meeting its most binding existing and proposed NDC targets under its current policies projections. The projections have been revised to GHG emissions levels of 13.2 to 14.5 GtCO2e/year in 2030, an increase of 20% to 32% from 2010 levels, after incorporating the latest policy developments and analysis. The CAT rates China’s policies and action as “Insufficient”, as current policy projections closely match China’s modelled domestic pathways consistent with global warming of over 2°C and up to 3 °C by the end of the century (if all countries had this level of ambition). This rating takes into account that a fraction of the needed policies and actions in China's to be consistent with the Paris agreement 1.5 degree limit would need international support.
The COVID-19 economic recovery strategy in China initially showed a clear intention to emphasise low-carbon growth as a priority. However, this proved to be a red herring as in the second half of 2020, coal and gas consumption, and cement and steel production all rose. The CAT estimates that emission levels in 2020 rose to 13.8 GtCO2e, rising by 1.3% from 2019.
In April 2021, President Xi Jinping announced at the Biden Leaders Climate Summit that China will “strictly control coal consumption” over the next 14th Five-year Plan (FYP) period (2021-2025) and “will phase down coal consumption” over the 15th FYP period (2026-2030). This is significant as it is both the first time China has issued such strong intent on decoupling economic growth from coal and the first time it has suggested a peak year for coal consumption. However, China commissioned 38.4 GW of new plants (a net 29.8 GW increase) in 2020, representing 76% of the world’s total commissioned coal plants, signalling another year where China held back the rest of the world’s progress in declining plants.
Renewable energy continues to be a national priority amidst the proposed update of the non-fossil share (25% by 2030) and renewable capacity (1,200 GW by 2030) NDC targets. In 2021, the National Energy Administration (NEA) further set a target to have renewables make up half of the country’s installed capacity by 2025 and proposed raising companies’ minimum renewable energy purchases to 40% by 2030.
In industry, China's aluminium sector has drafted a target to peak carbon emissions by 2025 and reduce emissions from that peak by 40% in 2040, while the steel sector also targets a peak in 2025 and intends to reduce its carbon emissions by 30% from the peak by 2030.
Chinese industry officials have also raised the national new energy vehicle (NEV) sales target from 20% to 25% in 2025 and, last year, even discussed a ban on fossil fuel vehicles and increasing the NEV sales target to 50% to 60%. China’s EV stock will need to make up 35% to 50% of the entire car fleet and sell its last fossil fuel car by 2040 to be compatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 °C temperature goal.
Under China’s most binding peaking and non-fossil share NDC targets, the country’s emission levels would reach between 13.2 to 14.0 GtCO2e in 2030, an increase of 20% to 28% from 2010 levels. The lowered NDC emissions range is due to both our quantification of China’s proposed NDC targets (rather than existing), as well as positive energy sector policy developments. For China’s NDC pathway in our global aggregation, we use a single value to estimate the emissions level if all four NDC targets were met. We use the average of China‘s peaking and non-fossil share targets (13.6 GtCO2e) as they are the most binding targets and the most realistic emissions trajectory is captured within the range.
The CAT rates China’s domestic target in 2030 as “Insufficient”, indicating that China’s domestic target in 2030 needs substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. Even if China submitted its proposed NDC update, which only resembles a minor improvement in its emissions trajectory, the domestic target would still be rated as “Insufficient”. If all countries were to follow China’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C. This rating takes into account that China would need international support for a fraction of the policy actions required to be consistent with the Paris agreement 1.5 °C limit.
China’s emission levels under its NDC commitments are substantially higher than what would be deemed Paris compatible compared to our “fair share” approach, resulting in our fair share of “Highly Insufficient”.
The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that China’s fair share target in 2030 leads to rising, rather than falling, emissions and is not in line with any interpretation of a fair approach to meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. If all countries were to follow China’s approach, warming could reach over 3°C and up to 4°C.
This rating takes into account that China has effectively submitted an unconditional NDC target but has not indicated a level of emissions that would be achieved with international support (a conditional NDC target). In any event, the present level of unconditional commitment falls substantially short of the commitment that would be consistent with China's fair share contribution to meeting the Paris Agreement's goals.
China’s President Xi Jinping first announced China’s commitment to reach “carbon neutrality before 2060” in a declaration at the UN General Assembly in September 2020, and China followed up with an official submission to the UNFCCC in October 2021. Given that most of the target elements assessed by our best practice criteria evaluation is insufficient or missing, we evaluate the net-zero target as: Poor.