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China’s 2060 climate pledge is ‘largely consistent’ with 1.5C goal, study finds
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China’s 2060 climate pledge is ‘largely consistent’ with 1.5C goal, study finds


New research has found that China’s pledge to achieve “carbon neutrality” before 2060 is “largely consistent” with the Paris Agreement’s aim of limiting global warming to 1.5C. 

But, to stay below this level of warming, the country will need to aim higher than its current net-zero goal and accomplish “deep” emission reductions in the near term, the authors state. 


According to the study, to hit the 1.5C goal, the world’s largest emitter would need to cut its total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and energy consumption by more than 90% and 39%, respectively, by 2050 – compared to a “no-policy” scenario where the government has not and will not impose climate policies.

The paper was published in Science, also finds that the 1.5C mark would require China’s fossil fuel consumption to be “dramatically reduced” and demand for coal to drop to nearly zero by 2050.

Dr Hongbo Duan, the lead author, says the study “fills a gap” because no previous research had focused on assessing the efforts required by China to contribute to the 1.5C ambition of Paris.

China’s goal vs 1.5C limit

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted by 196 parties at COP 21 in 2015, sets the goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2C and preferably to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. China joined the international agreement before the G20 Summit. in 2016 – the same time as the US.

Last September, surprise move by President Xi Jinping, president Xi Jinping was elected announced that China would peak its CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve “carbon neutrality” before 2060.

Although the 1.5C target began to receive “considerable attention” following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, only “a minority” of studies have focused on it – particularly at the country level – the paper points out. (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on 1.5C published in 2018.)

The research shows that China’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 is “largely consistent with the 1.5C warming limit” – but only if the nation carries out substantial cuts to its carbon and non-carbon emissions over the next 30 years or so.

Dr DuanAssociate Professor at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, explains the study’s key finding to Carbon Brief:

“If China keeps to the 1.5C pathways, it will be able to become carbon neutral by 2060. But if China aims for the carbon-neutral goal, it doesn’t mean that it can fulfil the emission-reduction requirements of the 1.5C goal. The 1.5C goal is tougher and stricter.”


Integrated Assessment Models:IAMs are computer models that analyze a wide range of data, such as: Physical, economic, and social data can be combined to provide information that can aid in decision-making. For climate research, specifically,… Read More

Dr Duan and his coauthors analyzed a variety of China’s emission scenarios using nine different methodologies integrated assessment models(IAMs), consistent with the 1.5C target. After that, they identified the “consistent”, “model-robust” results across various outcomes.

Multi-model analysis shows China would have to control both CO2 non-CO2 emissionsUnder the 1.5C target. The chart below, part of the study highlights the projected reductions in carbon (green shaded) and noncarbon emissions (pink, and blue), across the participating models.

Notably, all the 1.5C scenarios assume rapid CO2 reductions over 5-10 years, while China has pledged to stop its emissions by 2030.

The illustration shows the reduction ratios of carbon and noncarbon emissions in China based on the 1.5C temperature limit. The projections of different models are shown by the different colours of solid and dashed line. The green shade represents the CO2 emissions forecasts, while the pink- and blue sections represent methane, nitrous oxide, and the respective sections. Source: Duan et al (2021.

The above calculations reveal that, compared with a “no-policy” scenario, the drop in carbon emissions would need to be between 90% and 112% by 2050. Meanwhile, non-carbon emissions – namely, methane and nitrous oxide – would need to dip by an average of 71% and 52%, respectively.

Prof Detlef van Vuuren, one of the paper’s main authors, calls China’s announced decarbonisation target “an ambitious step in the right direction”. 

But he stresses that the country must reduce its carbon emissions “significantly” in the short term, as well as other reductions for non-CO2 greenhouse gases.

Prof van Vuuren currently holds positions at The PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment AgencyThe Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University. Carbon Brief is told by him:

“Worldwide CO2 emissions need to be reduced to zero around the middle of the century. This can only be achieved if China’s emissions are significantly reduced. Politically, China’s role is also crucial as its actions might also provide the opportunity for other countries to take steps.”

For long-term goals, short-term action

China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitterAround 30% of the global total is produced by it. At the same time, it is the world’s second-largest economy, undergoing rapid urbanisation and infrastructure building

Previous analysis has called the country “an important force that heavily influences the failure or success of cooperation on climate change”.

Dr Henri WaismanSenior researcher at IDDRI’s climate programme, who was not involved in the study, says that the paper illustrates “the requirements for short-term action in order to reach demanding long-term objectives”. Carbon Brief was informed by him:

“This study illustrates very well that, despite huge uncertainties at a long-term horizon, some robust outcomes can be identified for what needs to happen in the coming decade.”

Dr Waisman, who is also coordinator of The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), says that the study shows the pursuit of the Paris Agreement goal requires “drastic” emission reduction in the coming decade with “proactive” and “strategic” action.

By examining the results of different models and establishing the “consistent” pathways across the board, the authors put forward a set of comprehensive requirements for China to stay on the 1.5C pathway.

One of the notable findings is that the warming limit calls for a “substantial decrease” in “carbon intensity” – the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of gross domestic product (GDP. 

The cross-model evaluation shows that China’s “carbon intensity” in end-use energy in 2050 would need to reduce by 60% to 87.1% compared to a “no-policy” scenario. The below graphic from the paper depicts the required “carbon intensity” decrease levels by different models.

The round main chart illustrates the percentages of “carbon intensity” reduction in 2050 required by different models (IPAC, GCAM, IMAGE, etc) for China to be aligned with the 1.5C goal. The surrounding smaller charts represent the “carbon intensity” decline trends projected by those models under the same temperature target. Source: Duan et al (2021).

The overall model comparison also confirms what the authors call “the formidable role” of CCS technologies – the process of capturing carbon emissions and storing them so they are not released into the atmosphere. The paper estimates that carbon captured would account for 20% of total reductions by 2050. 

Besides, the analysis indicates that China’s use of fossil fuelsTotal primary energy consumption would need to be “dramatically reduced” under the 1.5C scenario. The two indexes must be decreased by more than 73% and 39% by 2050, respectively, compared to a “no-policy” scenario, the paper finds.

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The scenarios also show that China’s coal demandFor the nation to remain below 1.5C, it would be necessary for the national average to drop to almost zero by 2050.

Dr Chunping XiePolicy fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, who was not involved in the study, says the most significant finding is that China’s power sector would need to cut down its emissions by 66% by 2030 and achieve full decarbonisation by 2050 to be in line with the 1.5C goal. Carbon Brief hears from her:

“It implies that, in the power sector, coal will need to be substantially replaced by renewables by 2030 and completely phased out by 2050. This raises questions about the dozens of power stations currently in construction or planned. These plants will either trap decades of polluting and high emission or become stranded assets. recent paper.”

Three crucial tasks under 1.5C 

The research team identified the three most crucial areas to help China reduce its carbon emissions below the stringent temperature limit. They are, in alphabetical order: energy consumption reduction and fuel switching negative emissions technologies.

Dr Duan notes that, even though the Chinese government has demanded the nation’s total energy consumption stay under 6bn tonnes of standard coal (Gtce) between 2021 and 2030, “strict control” must be put in place. He suggests that the appropriate policies for this could include improving energy efficiency and energy conservation. 

A Chinese man shoveling coal into a pickup truck. Credit: Boaz Rottem / Alamy Stock Photo.

According to the paper, the 1.5C goal requires a “steep decrease” in China’s fossil energy consumption. The models show that the decline could average 4.0Gtce in 2050 – 73.9% lower than the “no-policy” level.

The study shows that China would meet its 2030 national contribution target on non-fossil fuels in 2025 under the 1.5C pathways. Additionally, the share of non-fossil fuels in total primary energy consumption would continue to rise and could account for 30% in 2030 – 5% higher than the goal announced by Xi at the Climate Ambition Summit last December. The projected non-fossil fuel percentage in 2050 will be 62.8%.

Dr Duan says that energy transition is the second largest contributor. This includes replacing fossil fuels by renewable energy. He adds that though CCS and negative emissions (NET) technologies might be perceived as playing “an important role”, they weigh around 20% on average across all models. 

The study also highlights the potential “leapfrog development” of nuclear and renewables under the 1.5C warming limit. It forecasts renewables to increase by 1.3Gtce by 2050 – 175% higher than in the “no-policy” equivalent. The following charts show the expected energy restructuring across the target models.

The charts show the possible energy mix from 2015 to 2050 calculated by eight models under the 1.5C and “no-policy” scenarios. The featured energy types are: coal (pale violet), oil (maroon), gasoline (paleblue), nuclear (dark purple), wind(teal), solar, orange, biomass (navyblue) and hydro [scarlet]. The “real” column on the left illustrates the energy consumption from 2015 to 2019 with data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Source: Duan et al (2021.

Co-author Prof van Vuuren points out that while China is “investing heavily” in renewables already, “it is also still adding new coal capacity”. He said:

“It would be critical to bringing down the investment in coal. Similar transitions will also be necessary for other sectors, including transport (switch to electric vehicles) and buildings.”

Dr Waisman, who was not involved in the study, thinks that the role of NETs is “probably the most questionable result” of the research. 

He explains that the large-scale deployment of these solutions is “highly uncertain from a technical point of view”. They could also create “important” risks of tradeoffs with other objectives, such as those linked to land-use competition, he adds.

The paper discusses the possible social-economic effects of climate change on China. It also highlights the policy costs associated with climate governance. social cost of carbon(SCC). The latter is a method which attempts to add up all the quantifiable cost and benefits of emitting an additional 1 tonne CO2 and present them in money terms. 

It indicates that various models produced “a wide range” of policy cost estimates, but, on average, the accumulated figure for China may add up to 2.8-5.7% of its GDP by 2050 under the 1.5C target.

The study goes further to point out that the forecast SCCs are also highly variable, “with a cross-model difference of more than 10-fold”.

Dr Waisman says relevant actions and policy packages will need to be defined to “maximise the alignment between mitigation objectives and key socio-economic priorities”. He elaborates:

“For example, the drastic decrease of coal demand, identified as a critical condition to achieve the emission goal, raises some issues from a socio-economic perspective that will need to be considered when constructing the transition packages.”

Dr. Xie, a non-participant in the study’s current significance, states that China must immediately adopt a mitigation route compatible with the 1.5C goal. She also added: 

“China’s role in the world is now of a magnitude that makes its actions in the immediate future critical to how the world goes forward.”

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  • China’s 2060 climate pledge is ‘largely consistent’ with 1.5C goal, study finds

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