ANALYSIS - China Likely To Achieve Carbon Neutrality By 2060, But Path May Prove Tricky

ANALYSIS - China Likely to Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2060, But Path May Prove Tricky

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 07th April, 2021) The chances are high that China will achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2060, but as there is still no long-term environmental plan outlining the actions, Beijing may struggle on the path towards reducing its carbon footprint.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stunned the global community when he announced Beijing's ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 in his address to the UN General Assembly in September. Some media outlets and experts expressed skepticism that the goal would in fact be achieved as China is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, accounting for 28 percent of global emissions.

While the Western world is busy phasing out coal plants and switching to greener sources of energy, China still heavily relies on coal and that may hamper the implementation of the 2060 carbon neutrality goal. So far, China's emissions have been growing annually and are only bound to rise and reach their peak by 2030.

Recently, China has rolled out its five-year plan covering economic development and environment, but it faced criticism over lacking any legally binding carbon emissions caps, while the reliance on coal-fired power remained in place.

POLITICAL WILL INSPIRES HOPE BUT MORE STEPS NEEDED

Despite the lack of long-term plans, experts are positive on the prospects of China zeroing its carbon emissions by 2060 as its recent track record towards sustainability inspires hope.

"Certainly possible for China to achieve the 2060 carbon neutrality goal, although it is still too early to postulate on the likelihood as long-term implementation plans have yet to be developed. All reports on domestic developments show the political intention is genuine and progress is already starting on all facets of the economy. The policy signal made from the highest level as already trickled down to the provincial levels and industry," Ryan Wilson, a climate and energy policy analyst with the Climate Action Tracker, told Sputnik.

Asit K. Biswas, a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Glasgow, believes that China will not only manage to achieve the 2060 goal, but may even accomplish it sooner than expected.

"If you look at what China has been doing for the last 10 years and forget many of the standard rhetoric in the West, China has become very environmentally conscious.

In fact, I'd say that the current leadership is more environmentally conscious than most other leaders of the world. They [the Chinese leadership] have done the calculations, I'm confident that they would not only make the 2060 goal, but they will reach it even before, 2-3 years before. That always has been the Chinese philosophy," Biswas, who has been advising the government of China on environment since the 1980-s, told Sputnik.

Biswas, who has also been advising 18 other countries on the issue of environment, believes that benefits of China's energy transition "will far outweigh the costs" as the country would no longer need rely on the imports of oil and gas.

Benjamin Sovacool, the professor of Energy Policy with the University of Sussex, warns that the road towards decarbonization for China may prove bumpy as it is facing too many challenges post-COVID.

"At this stage, Chinese climate policy objectives are at a rare state of flux. The country has sought to implement measures to decarbonize its economy, constrain emissions and meet its international pledges under the Paris Accord. At the same time, it is recovering from a global pandemic, managing growth in manufacturing and employment, and seeking to appease diverse stakeholder interests. The road to decarbonization in China will likely be long and winding, with barriers that cut across many environmental, economic, and institutional dimensions. These must be proactively managed if emissions reductions are to be achieved," Sovacool told Sputnik.

Among the policy actions that China is yet to commit to are a ban on new coal projects as well as the gradual phase out of coal, oil and gas as well as the continued expansion and reform of the emission trading scheme, Wilson the Climate Action Tracker analyst noted.

"Decarbonizing the power sector will provide multiplier effects on other decarbonization and 'green growth' initiatives from China - particularly on electric vehicle deployment and shifting towards a digitalized, technology-driven economy. It will also help to reduce emissions in other hard-to-abate, high-emitting sectors such as steel, chemicals, cement," Wilson concluded.