Fiona Harvey China’s path to low-carbon growth ‘must start now’

A new report suggests that the Chinese economy could grow tenfold by 2050 while keeping the country’s greenhouse gas emissions within manageable limits.

The report, from the Tyndall Centre, found that through a programme of low-carbon investment, China could cause its emissions to peak in 2020. If that could be achieved, the world’s chances of keeping warming to 2°C – the limits of safety – would be greatly improved.

But getting to the point where China’s emissions growth can be reversed by 2020 will be extremely tough. It must start now, the researchers said.

The study looked at four scenarios for China’s carbon emissions trajectory over the next few decades, with emissions peaking between 2020 and 2030. A key difference between the scenarios, the report’s authors said, was promoting innovation and the approach
to social inequality.  The scenarios varied in both in China’s total emission ‘budget’ for the entire century, based on a total worldwide emissions budget of 490 GtC (gigatonnes of carbon =109 tonnes). The scenarios gave China an allocation of between 70 GtC and 111GtC.

Dr Jim Watson, co-author of the report, said: “This report shows that low carbon growth in China is possible. It explores a variety of alternative energy-economy futures that China could choose to inform policy makers about the potential implications of their available choices.”

“There are some common conclusions arising from the analysis”, said Dr Tao Wang, “for example, it is vital in all scenarios for China to start slowing its emissions growth immediately, and to reach carbon emissions peak as early as possible. The later and the higher the emission peak is, the more difficult it will be to stick with the budget. While 2010 is unrealistic to peak emission, 2040 is too late. China has to aim for an emissions peak between 2020 and 2030 which means that work has to begin now.”

Energy efficiency will make up a huge part of cutting China’s emissions. Renewables will also have to be massively boosted: they will have to account for more than 60% of power generation and 40% of China’s total energy demand in 2050. Carbon capture and storage would also be crucial to 3 out the 4 scenarios in which China achieves low-carbon growth, the researchers said.