China to Strengthen Climate Target Next Year: Could Be Huge

On the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Osaka at the end of June, China and France issued a statement with UN Secretary-General Guterres committing to strengthen their climate targets, or national determined contributions (NDCs), under the Paris Agreement next year. A strengthened climate target by China next year could be a massive boost to the global effort to fight climate change.

Specifically, China and France “reaffirmed their commitment to update their nationally determined contributions in a manner representing a progression beyond the current one and reflecting their highest possible ambition, and to publish their long-term mid-century low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies by 2020.”

A stronger Chinese emissions reduction target could be one of the most significant actions for any country in helping the world meet its Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius and strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Under the Paris Agreement, China in 2015 committed to peak its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by around 2030, and make best efforts to peak earlier, which in itself was a major commitment. Prior to this announcement, most experts including the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that China's emissions wouldn’t peak until well after 2030 (see figure). We highlighted then how this target would contribute to a lower and earlier emissions peak for China and the world.

China emissions projection scenarios at time of its target announcement

In order to meet the 2 degree Celsius and even more stringent 1.5 degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement, the world needs to deeply cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years. To be on a pathway consistent with with limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, the world needs to cut emissions an additional 16-28 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2 equivalent annually by 2030, and by an even more aggressive 28-33 Gt annually to meet a 1.5 degree Celsisus trajectory. In an analysis NRDC conducted with New Climate Institute earlier this year, we laid out 24 major actions that could significantly cut the global “emissions gap” by 2030 and help put the world on a safer climate trajectory in line with the Paris Agreement (see figure).

Chinese measures to help "close the emissions gap"

In that analysis, we found that if China peaks its CO2 emissions in 2025, by capping coal consumption before 2020, it could cut the global emissions gap by approximately 2.5 Gt CO2 equivalent per year. That level of emissions reduction represents a huge contribution to putting the world on a safer climate trajectory. China is already on the way to meeting this action, having cut its coal consumption by 9.4 percent from 2013-16, implemented a target to reduce the share of coal in total energy consumption from 64 percent in 2015 to 58 percent by 2020, and led the world in wind and solar installation (China’s annual wind and solar installation, almost 65 GW last year, is more than the US, EU, Canada, India, Japan, Korea and Brazil combined). Accelerated renewables deployment and energy efficiency gains could lead to even larger cuts than we analyzed.

If China were to limit its CO2 emissions to an even lower level, by peaking its CO2 emissions in 2025 and reducing them back down to 2020 levels by 2030, it could make an even more significant contribution to cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. For example, if China were also to implement a strong cap to peak oil consumption by 2030 at levels not significantly greater than current annual consumption, it would result in an additional reduction of 0.4 Gt CO2 equivalent per year by 2030.

Finally, China could also consider strengthening its controls on emissions of non-CO2 “super greenhouse gases” such as HFCs and methane—which have global warming impacts many times stronger than CO2—to make an even bigger contribution to fighting climate change. According to our study with NewClimate Insitute, China’s implementation of strong policies with concrete targets to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases using technically feasible measures could close the emissions gap by an additional 0.7 Gt of CO2 equivalent annually (accounting for overlap with reductions from China’s coal sector) in 2030. These measures could include strengthening controls on methane from coal mining and the oil and gas sector, landfills and wastewater, and agriculture; and phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in air conditioning even more quickly than required under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

China’s decision to strengthen its climate target next year could well be one of the most important actions to help put the world on a safer climate trajectory. By capping coal consumption before 2020, peaking oil consumption by 2030, and mitigating super greenhouse gases, China could cut emissions by at least 3.6 Gt of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030.

China won’t be alone as all countries and sectors will need to do more to increase their ambition next year, but China’s statement that it will strengthen its goals under the Paris Agreement provides confidence and motivation for other players to similarly commit to much stronger efforts to shift the world to a safer climate trajectory and rebut the Trump Administration’s abdication of leadership on the greatest challenge of our time.

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Managing Director, International program

Alvin Lin

Climate and Energy Policy Director, China Program
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The world has a narrow window of opportunity to realize the goals of the Paris climate agreement. NRDC’s new roadmap outlines how leaders can act decisively to deliver 24 realistic climate actions and put the world on track for a safer climate future.

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