Achieving net-zero carbon emissions while becoming a rich developed economy is technically and economically feasible for China by 2050.
The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) today launched its report "China 2050: A Fully Developed Rich Zero-Carbon Economy," in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). The report shows that it is technically and economically feasible for China to simultaneously become a fully developed economy and reach net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century.
According to the report, to achieve this objective, the investment required can easily be affordable given China's high savings and investment rate, and the impact on China's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2050 will be minimal. Committing to achieve zero emissions by 2050 will spur investment and innovation, and it will also deliver large improvements in local air quality and enable China to establish technological leadership across multiple industries.
The report demonstrates how China can reduce final energy demand, while living standards continue to rise. Reduced demand for steel and cement, more circular use of all materials —especially plastics — and the inherent energy efficiency advantages achieved by the electrifying of surface transport and building heating will enable China to enjoy a GDP per capita and standard of living of three times the current levels while reducing final energy demand from 88 exajoules (EJ) today to 64 EJ in 2050. Accordingly, China's total primary energy demand could fall by 45% from 132 EJ today to 73 EJ in 2050. This would see a dramatic change in the sources of energy, with fossil fuel demand falling over 90%, while non-fossil energy would expand by 3.4 times.
At the supply side, to achieve net-zero emissions will require the total decarbonization of electricity generation and the massive expansion of electricity use of around 15,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2050, compared with only 7,000 TWh in 2018. Approximately 75% of total electricity generation could be from wind and solar resources with a portfolio of grid flexibility and storage options. It could also require a more than threefold increase in the production and use of hydrogen, from 25 million tonnes to over 80 million tons in 2050. There will also be important but more limited roles for increased bioenergy production and for carbon capture and either storage or use.
The report also highlights key sectoral actions and proposes public policies suggestions to achieve the zero-carbon target.