China officially submitted its updated NDC to the UNFCCC on October 28, 2021, ahead of COP26. The NDC update strengthened and expanded previous 2030 NDC targets and added a fifth new target. The update is an improvement from the country’s first NDC. At the time of the October 2021 announcement, we assessed the updated NDC to be slightly more ambitious than the then current policy projections. Our revised assessment of the country’s policies shows that China is expected to achieve the new NDC targets without a substantial increase in implementing mitigation policy. The CAT keeps China’s rating for its NDC targets as “Highly Insufficient”.
China also submitted its Mid-Century Long-Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy (LTS) with its NDC, containing the country’s commitment to reach “carbon neutrality before 2060”. The officially-submitted LTS implies China’s emissions coverage are only for carbon dioxide, whereas previously the CAT assumed the coverage was for all GHGs as was claimed by Xie Zhenhua and Tsinghua University. Due to the size of China’s emissions, the difference in emissions coverage could make up to 0.1°C more (CO2 only) or less (all GHGs) warming in 2100. Given the LTS submission does not meet the majority of our criteria for a best-practice approach in LTS formulation, we evaluate China’s net-zero target as “Poor”.
- Submitted a stronger target on 28 October 2021.
China officially submitted its updated NDC to the UNFCCC, updating its four separate NDC targets and adding a fifth target that aims to increase renewable capacity. The NDC target revisions are all improvements in ambition for emission reductions, and emission levels expected from the targets have all been revised lower compared to the first NDC. At the time of the updated NDC submission, the expected emission levels achieved under the NDC were within the range of China’s projected current policies emissions trajectory in 2030 (13.2 to 14.5 GtCO2e), meaning China could possibly achieve many of its NDC targets without adding new policies.
After considering new policy developments and domestic energy trends since then, the CAT has revised China’s current policy projections downward in the medium-term. According to our updated analysis, China’s emissions are expected to reach 13.2 to 13.8 GtCO2e in 2030 (equivalent to emissions under the peaking target given no peaking year is specified). This suggests that China is due to overachieve its other energy-related NDC targets and would be able to raise target-setting ambition to strive for goals beyond its current policy trajectory.
China’s most binding NDC peaking target only directly covers CO2 gases, omitting significant emissions from energy, agriculture, waste and industry.
Target development timeline & previous CAT analysis
CAT rating of targets
Under China’s most binding peaking and non-fossil share NDC targets, the country’s emission levels would reach between 13.2 to 13.8 GtCO2e/year in 2030. The lowered NDC emissions range is due to updates in latest energy sector trends and policy developments. China is now likely to overachieve its updated energy-related NDC commitments with our current policies projections (equivalent to achieving the NDC peaking target).
Comparing China’s expected emission levels from its NDC commitments to global least cost modelled domestic pathways downscaled to the country level, the CAT rates China’s domestic target in 2030 as “Insufficient”. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that China’s domestic target in 2030 needs substantial improvements in ambition to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. 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 a fraction of China's domestic target consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5-degree limit would need international support.
China’s emission levels under its NDC commitments are higher than what would be deemed Paris compatible compared to our “fair share” approach, resulting in our rating of “Highly Insufficient”.
The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that China’s fair share target in 2030 lead 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. We base our rating on China’s NDC commitment to peak CO2 along with other major implemented policies. If all countries were to follow China’s approach, warming could reach over 3°C and up to 4°C.
Were we to base the NDC rating on the other NDC targets or the carbon intensity target only, it would also be “Highly insufficient,” but the absolute emissions level of this element of the NDC is highly uncertain as it depends on GDP growth.
This rating takes into account that China has submitted an unconditional NDC target but has not indicated a level of emissions that would be achieved with international support (a conditional 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.
Whether China should or should not receive some climate finance from abroad to reduce its emissions is a matter of debate. Our methods do not provide a clear answer to this question, although on balance the CAT methodology shows China requiring small but important international support is consistent with the wide range of literature on fair share contributions to meeting the Paris Agreement's goals (the figure above shows it to receive a small contribution). In any case, the NDC target achieved with own resources would need to be increased significantly to be in line with the 1.5°C limit.
Net zero and other long-term target(s)
We evaluate the net-zero target as: Poor.
China submitted its Mid-Century Long-Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy (LTS) on October 28, 2021 to the UNFCCC, which contains the country’s commitment to reach “carbon neutrality before 2060”. The commitment was first declared at the UN General Assembly in September 2020 by President Xi Jinping (FMPRC, 2020).
The officially-submitted LTS appears to confirm the commitment covers only carbon dioxide emissions, whereas the CAT had previously assumed the coverage was for all GHGs as claimed by Xie Zhenhua and Tsinghua University. The target is not yet enshrined in an official law but has become a core focus and narrative across all national and subnational planning documents, government notices, and politburo convenings, which was reaffirmed in China’s 2022 “Two Sessions” (Xinhua, 2022b).
If China’s net zero target were to cover all GHG emissions, its long-term strategy could be within range of mid-century Paris Agreement compatible emission levels, although compatibility also depends on the shape of the pathway (Yvonne Deng et al., 2020).
Due to the size of China’s emissions, this difference can make up to 0.1°C more (CO2 only) or less (all GHGs) warming in 2100. Given the LTS submission does not meet the majority of our criteria for a best-practice approach in LTS formulation, we evaluate China’s net-zero target as “Poor”.