Chinese politicians expect to focus in plenary on Xi Jinping’s new radical climate goals in plenary for a new five-year plan.
Chinese leaders will meet in a government plenary on Monday to discuss ambitious new measures to combat climate change in order to finalize a new five-year national plan for development after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to make the country “climate neutral” by 2060.
Policymakers are under pressure to include radical climate targets in the new five-year plan 2021-2025, with the COVID-hit economy weighing on their decisions.
The government departments that prepared the document should complete the first draft by April. However, Xi’s announcement to the United Nations that China will offset all of its emissions within 40 years meant that they must incorporate the new climate targets.
Xie Zhenhua, formerly China’s highest climate official and now an advisor to the environment ministry, told Reuters that while the new targets are “based on extensive research and calculations,” they must now make all adjustments.
Before September, few expected China to promise more ambitious curbs on climate-warming greenhouse gases over the next five years. Political documents signal Beijing’s intention to make energy security and the economy its top priorities. New coal-fired power stations were also expected to be built, but government scholars were forced to revise their old designs.
“Right now, every level of government is working on the fourteenth five-year plan,” said Kevin Lo, assistant director at the David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies in Hong Kong, which studies China’s environmental policy.
“The understanding is that there is no time to be lost if China is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.”
Experts say China needs to increase coal’s share of the total energy mix from 58 percent last year to less than 50 percent by 2025 and better support technologies like carbon capture.
It could begin by setting an absolute emissions cap for the first time, said Zou Ji, head of Energy Foundation China, which was involved in the five-year plan research.
“Our recommendation is to set a target for controlling all carbon emissions (by 2025),” he said at a conference last week.
No “side problem”
Since 2019, China has made energy security a top priority. The government supports increasing fossil fuel production and the revitalization of coal-fired power plants.
Beijing also relied on new infrastructure to fuel its economic recovery, and official data showed an increase in demand for energy-intensive products like steel and cement.
But China needs to rethink its plans now, government researchers said.
He Jiankun, vice director of the National Committee of Experts on Climate Change, said Beijing needs to limit emissions and even achieve “negative growth” in coal consumption by 2025.
China must stop building and financing all new coal-fired power plants, Zou said. This would affect the plans for another 300 gigawatts that are in preparation.
In comments posted on social media, Li Tianxiao of the Development Research Center, a cabinet think tank, predicted that China would have to double its wind and solar capacity to around 500 gigawatts each by 2025.
China has little time to lose. Consulting firm Wood Mackenzie said solar, wind and storage capacity would need to grow 11x by 2050, while coal power would need to cut in half.
“The hardest part of the relocation is not the investment or the scale of renewable capacity expansion, but the social transition involved,” said Prakash Sharma, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie.
Zou said Xi’s announcement placed climate firmly at the center of China’s overall economic and political strategy and that China’s entire economic structure is now facing “systematic change.”
“The climate will never be a minor problem,” he said. “His position is much, much higher than before.”