How China can achieve net zero and thrive as an economy

Looking up towards the canopy of a group of tall trees
Photo by Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
26 November 2019

More and more countries are committing to carbon neutrality by 2050, but to date those commitments aren’t coming from the highest carbon emitting nations, including India, the United States and China. 

Hesitation to commit to a net zero future commonly stems from a fear of stunting economic growth –  a fear that in China’s case, can now be put to rest. 

The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) –  an organisation working to identify pathways for change in energy systems – last week launched its China 2050 report: “A Fully Developed Rich Zero-Carbon Economy”.

The report, created in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), highlights how China can achieve the twin goals of net zero carbon emissions and becoming a rich developed economy. With strong policy support, accelerated innovation, and expanded investment, the report shows that China can cut its final energy demand, while trebling its GDP per capita.

“For the world to deliver the Paris Climate objectives, it is vital that China has a strategy to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century,” says Adair Turner, Chair of the ETC. “Given China’s central role in the global economy, its vast renewable energy resources, and its technological leadership in key industries, China is uniquely positioned to lead the global energy transition and to decarbonize its economy completely by 2050. This report shows how it is technically and economically possible, and describes the actions which policy makers and companies need to take to seize the opportunity.”

According to the report the investment required to achieve these carbon objectives can easily be afforded 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 while delivering large improvements in local air quality – enabling China to establish technological leadership across multiple industries.

“China has the institutional, financial and technological advantages of ‘concentrating resources to accomplish large undertakings’, which makes it well placed to stimulate long-term and large-scale investment once setting up strategic goals. This helps to lay a solid foundation for China to pursue zero-carbon objectives by 2050 and gain the economic and environmental advantages which would result,” says Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of RMI. 

Read the full report to learn more about how China can reduce final energy demand, while living standards continue to rise.