China think-tank urges govt to set absolute carbon caps

SHANGHAI • An influential Chinese think-tank is calling on Beijing to set absolute caps on climate-warming greenhouse gases to ensure the country is on course for emissions to peak by the end of the next decade.

China is the world's top producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, and it has pledged to bring its total emissions to a peak by "around 2030" as part of its commitments to the 2015 Paris climate accord. The United Nations pact aims to curb temperature rises and cut global emissions.

However, a research report circulated by the government-run National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC) on Tuesday warned the goal might not be within reach unless absolute limits on carbon emissions are included in the nation's five-year plan starting in 2021.

On a "business as usual" trajectory, annual CO2 emissions would grow from 11 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) in 2020 to 14.3 gigatonnes in 2030 and would still be rising, it said. Fossil fuels such as coal are the main sources of CO2. China is the world's top coal producer and user.

Non-fossil fuels will account for 17.6 per cent of China's total energy mix by 2030 under current policies, falling short of its pledge of around 20 per cent, the study added.

But CO2 emissions could be capped at around 10.6 gigatonnes by 2025 and kept stable over the 2025-2030 period, it said. Tougher measures could keep per-capita emissions at 7.2 tonnes by 2030, lower than the "business as usual" level of 8.3 tonnes.

Policymakers have been too short term in their thinking when it comes to setting industry goals, meaning that high-carbon assets in sectors like steel and coal could end up being "stranded" when policies are tightened in the future, the think-tank said.

The NCSC is a unit of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and plays a role in setting climate policies, but it remains unclear whether the Chinese government will heed its recommendations, especially with the economy under pressure.

"The environment ministry is trying to push the idea of carbon caps in the overall five-year plan... but it doesn't have the final say," said environmental group Greenpeace's senior climate adviser Li Shuo.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2019, with the headline 'China think-tank urges govt to set absolute carbon caps'. Print Edition | Subscribe