Research Press Release

Climate change: Challenges for China to reach net-zero by 2060

Nature Reviews Earth & Environment

December 22, 2021

To achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, China will need to phase out the use of coal and other fossil fuels, deploy negative emission technologies at a large scale and promote low-carbon development, according to a Perspective published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.

Emissions from China currently account for 28% of global carbon emissions. A major step to curbing these emissions are targets to reduce 2005 carbon intensity levels (the number of grams of CO2 that it takes to make one unit of electricity) by 40-45% and 60-65% by 2020 and 2030, respectively.

Zhu Liu and colleagues assessed the status of China’s CO2 emissions and the progress made in its plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. By 2020, carbon intensity had decreased by 48.4% compared to 2005 levels. However, the authors argue that in order to reach peak total emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, the following goals will need to be met: establishing a full scale cap-and-trade system that covers all sectors, given negative emissions from afforestation, recycling, and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS); recycling 100% of construction materials and industrial by-products; realizing the goal of 85% or 70% of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by 2050 under the 1.5℃ and 2℃ scenarios, respectively; and development of a full CCUS strategy for the remaining fossil-fuel-based boilers and plants.

Liu and co-authors conclude that current efforts to reduce emissions are mainly responses to top-down policies by the central government. However, measures that can incentivize bottom-up efforts are also called for, such as setting local mitigation targets, promoting a just transition towards carbon neutrality, and mobilizing communities.


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