China’s ‘latecomer advantage’ in achieving carbon neutrality

A week before the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, China submitted its climate targets and implementation plans to the UN.

The country aims to reach CO2 emissions peak by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Many people, however, remain skeptical about whether China will be able to fulfill its commitments. Li Junfeng believes that the country will meet its targets.

Since 2006, China has implemented effective carbon reduction measures, such as the “dual control” policy of reducing energy intensity and consumption with key performance indicators for all levels of regional governments. In 2013, the majority of provinces saw a slower carbon emission growth, except for six provinces and autonomous regions, including Ningxia, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. With a two percent annual growth rate of emissions, these regions accounted for 70 percent of China’s total increase in emissions. Although China’s coal consumption rebounded between 2017 and 2019, the growth rate of annual average carbon emissions has been slowing down, dropping from 12.7 percent in the 10th Five-Year Plan period (2001-2005) to 1.7 percent during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020).

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Continuing this trend, China would be able to reach peak emissions by 2025. Furthermore, Li states that China has “latecomer’s advantage” (后发优势 hòu fā yōushì), meaning that it needs to reach a lower peak per capita level and can enjoy lower-cost new energy technologies compared with developed countries that peaked earlier. For example, the US reached its peak emission in 2007 with nearly 20 tonnes emissions per capita, which is twice as much as China (10 tonnes per capita in 2019).

Moreover, the cost of non-fossil energy in China, especially renewable energy, has fallen significantly and has become more competitive – the unit cost of photovoltaic cells, which are devices that convert sunlight into energy, fell by more than 80% since 2010. The conditions for grid parity – when the cost of clean energy matches that of conventional energy sources – are already in place in most regions. Meanwhile, China has maintained the advantage of having the most electric vehicles in the world. Together, these factors will help China achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Read full the article at Dongsheng.

Author: Li Junfeng (李俊峰) is former director of National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation.