China’s Path to Peak Emission Regions

By Dr Zhanfeng Dong 24 April, 2022

Are Chinese provinces set to meet carbon emission peak ambition by 2030? What's in their action list? Dr Dong breaks it down

Only small # of regions entered carbon peaking plateau & many still lag; economically developed Eastern provinces & renewables-abound Southwest are set to peak by 2025
Energy-intensive Midwest provinces & fossil-fuel dependent GBA are in urgent need of achieving peak by 2030 - energy/industrial restructuring & infra decarbonisation are key
Additional policies support can be better carbon reduction responsibility mechanism, R&D support/tax incentives energy-efficient co's & rewards to individuals with green lifestyle
Dr Zhanfeng Dong
Author: Dr Zhanfeng Dong
Dr. Dong Zhanfeng is currently working at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning (CAEP) directly under the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), acted as the associate director of the Environmental Policy Institute (EPI). He is mainly engaged in SDGs, ecological and environmental policy. He served as editor-in-chief of Progress in Environmental Economics Research and served as editorial board of some academic journals such as Ecological Economics. He also serves as the senior environmental policy consultant experts for UNEP, UNDP, ADB, GEF and other international agencies. He acted as the core expert of China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) in 2016. He has presided over about 60 international cooperation and domestic research projects in recent 10 years. The international cooperation projects were mainly funded by UNEP, ADB, GEF, etc. Domestic scientific research projects were mainly funded by the National People's Congress (NPC), the State Council, MEE, Ministry of Science and Technology(MOST), Ministry of Finance(MOF), the National Natural Science Foundation(NNSF), etc. He has made several recommendations on environmental policy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), State Council, MEE, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), MOF, State Administration of Taxation (SAT) in China, and were adopted by the relevant ministries and commissions. He has published more than 150 papers in academic journals, authored 9 monographs and 20 books.
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China aims to peak carbon emissions by 2030. According to the nation’s action plan to peak carbon emission, the share of non-fossil energy consumption is set to increase from 16% in 2020 to 25% by 2030, targeting a 65% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP from the 2005 level.

But this requires more than simply targeting the energy sector. The plan calls for a holistic transition across multiple sectors. It is indeed ambitious. This poses the question of whether Chinese provinces are up to the task.

In the interview with Dr Zhanfeng Dong from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s (MEE) Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning (CAEP), we learn which provinces are top-performing and which provinces are lacking behind. Moreso, what steps are vital to overcoming the challenges lying ahead.

This month, Dr Zhanfeng Dong also discussed the prospect of the “carbon market” strategy in cutting emissions. This interview is available here.

CWR: Some places in Mainland China have proposed to take the lead in carbon emission peaking by 2030. Which areas do you think will take the lead during the 14th Five-Year Plan period and why? Which region is more urgent for emission peaking?

Dr Dong Zhan Feng (ZFD): It depends. Due to different factors such as the current emission status, prerequisites, as well as timelines and targets for peak emissions, each region must set their own pathways toward a low-carbon transition. Currently, Wuhan, Shenzhen, and Kunming have already peaked in their carbon emissions as of 2020. However, only a small number of cities have entered a carbon peaking plateau. Many are still far behind.

2 types of regions in adequate condition for peak emission = Eastern & Southwest region

Regions that have adequate enabling conditions for peak emissions are accelerants of China’s “dual carbon” goals – to peak emissions and attain carbon neutrality. There are potentially two categories of regions with emissions-peaking enablers. One group includes the economically developed eastern provinces such as Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai; while the other group consists of the Southwest region naturally endowed with substantial renewable energy resources.

Eastern provinces in the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) have strong economic foundation & tech….

… can peak emission at 1.9bn tonnes by 2024

Generally, the eastern provinces above have the capacity to embark on the economic transformations vital to meeting the peak emission within the 14FYP period (2021-2025) For example, the provinces in the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) with a strong economic foundation and technological capability are able to take the lead in energy transformation. They can embark on deep decarbonization through green energy policies, technological innovation, and an increase in alternative energy utilisation ratio and efficiencies. Under the green economy development scenario, the YRD could peak carbon emission at 1.9bn tonnes by 2024.

Southwest region, utilising abundant renewables could peak emissions too

Although the Southwest region might not be as economically buoyant as the Eastern Provinces, they have abundant natural renewable energy resources such as hydropower, wind and solar. They have the potential to meet energy demand and peak emissions through policy implementation that promotes the development and utilization of renewable energy.

On the other hand, heavily polluted, energy and carbon-intensive provinces in the Midwest such as Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, may suffer regression with regards to achieving the goal by 2030. These provinces need intervening support in curbing pollution and carbon reduction measures, as well as transformation in the industrial process, economic decisions, and energy structures.

Midwest & GBA are in more urgent need of reaching peak by 2030

Additionally, although the Greater Bay Area (GBA) leads other regions in energy structure and intensity; the share of their fossil fuel is still more than 70%, which considerably exceeds those of other developed Bay Area. Given the increasing trend in energy demand and emissions, the GBA is also in urgent need of achieving peak emission by 2030.

CWR:  How can the major energy-intensive provinces accelerate their economic transformation and promote local carbon peaking?

ZFD:  To rapidly scale down coal consumption, the coal energy-consuming provinces must enhance technology, restructure their industries, and decarbonize infrastructure construction.

Energy restructuring through intelligent coal mining & efficient coal processing will pave the way for coal replacement

The first way is to push for energy restructuring. This includes increasing the proportion of clean energy infrastructure, exploring vertical land utilization for clean energy model development, and promoting the integrated development of distributed photovoltaic and wind power in transportation, agriculture, and construction sectors. At the same time, actively promoting green and intelligent coal mining to further increase industrial concentration will reduce coal consumption and pave the way for coal replacement.

The second way is to control the amount and intensity of energy consumption. This includes the elimination of old, inefficient industrial processes in coal, steel, coking, electricity, and cement sectors; increase the efficiency of coal processing conversion to make the speed of coal combustion faster. At the same time, accelerate the change of coal from single fuel to a combination of fuel and raw materials, as well as extend the industrial and value chain.

The third way is to increase the amount of clean energy reaching the end-user. This includes putting in place green transportation for logistics, promoting alternative fuel vehicles, and increasing the proportion of clean energy applications in various sectors such as heating, transportation, and construction.

CWR: What kind of additional policy-level support can be provided for the areas in urgent need of meeting carbon peak goals?

Areas facing high pressure to meet carbon peaks will need different policies such as administrative, economic, and social policies to promote structural adjustment and low-carbon development.

Firstly, the management, control, and guidance of administrative policies need to be strengthened. A clear plan must be set to push carbon peaking in key industries such as steel, thermal power, and transportation. Those areas in urgent need should accelerate the adjustments of industrial and energy structure while restricting the launch of new carbon-intensive projects. They should also strengthen the assessment of carbon reduction targets, improve the carbon reduction responsibility mechanism, enhance the carbon regulations, and encourage the development of different levels of low-carbon pilot projects.

Tax incentives & R&D support co’s to reduce carbon/pollution

Secondly, a market-driven mechanism for carbon reduction should be established. Policies such as financial subsidies and taxes should be integrated to develop a circular economy, clean production, green design, and low or zero-carbon industries.

For example, enterprises with significant carbon and pollution reduction may be granted tax incentives. At the same time, we should encourage R&D on low-pollution and low-emission technologies in thermal power and non-energy producing industries such as steel, cement, and the chemical sector and provide green subsidies for energy conservation to low-carbon enterprises. We should also include low-carbon products in the government procurement catalogue and establish “energy-efficient leaders” programs to award companies on the top energy-efficient list.

Apart from that, we could also strengthen the comprehensive application of fiscal, tax, subsidy, financial and other policies. All these would support the development and application of new energy sources, increase clean and efficient uses of coal, and fast track the replacement of loose coal.

More fiscal support for new energy trucks while increasing tax on diesel trucks

In the transport sector, we could also enhance access to finance for green transportation using fiscal policy, tax incentives, price caps, supplementary funds, or other policies. To promote the use of new energy trucks, we could increase fiscal and taxation support, exempt or reduce their consumption tax; while increasing the consumption tax on heavy-duty diesel trucks. This would widen the gap between the consumption tax rates of gasoline and diesel.

Rewarding low-carbon lifestyles e.g. energy bill discount & coupons

Thirdly, the social mobilization system for low-carbon developments could be improved. We should create a unified code of conduct for green and low-carbon living. People should be encouraged to practice green and low-carbon living and consumption. This could be done through economic incentives and market-driven systems such as commodity pricing, tax rebate, access to credit, and mechanisms for oversight.  Green lifestyles or behaviours in consumption, mobility, energy conservation, and waste separation should be rewarded in form of “green points”, energy bill discounts, consumption coupons, and certification.

Further readings

  • First-ever 14FYP for Water Security – 8 Key Thoughts – China’s first-ever 14 Five Year Plan for Water Security signals that it is well ahead in water adaptation & the IPCC’s “climate resilient development”. CWR’s Debra Tan & Dr CT Low share more key thoughts
  • 14FYP – Promote Ecological Conservation – China’s 14FYP has bullish environmental goals but transformative potential is met with challenges, explains CAEPs Dr Dong & Song
  • Deeper Ecological & Environmental Policy Reforms In 14 FYP – Dr Dong from the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning shares his views on how to overcome unprecedented challenges of environmental protection during the 14FYP
  • Greening The Yellow River For A Beautiful China – As President Xi reiterates the Yellow River’s importance, Dr Zhanfeng Dong from the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning expands on policies for “黄河宁,天下平” – a stable Yellow River, peace in China
  • 5 Trends for the Year of the Ox – Will the Ox deliver it’s well known strength and stability and turn stubborn “old” cows into raging bulls for a better planet? Find out what the lunar new year has in store for us in our 5 trends

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