How China can achieve zero emissions by 2050

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Getty Images | Darrell Gulin
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
10 March 2021
With less than 10 years to avert the disastrous effects of climate change, the world urgently needs transformative energy solutions.

Virgin Unite’s partner and leader in the global energy space, RMI, is working to help cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, and put humanity on a path toward a clean, prosperous, zero carbon future for all.

To reach this target it is essential for the world’s energy and industrial systems to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions. China, as one of the world’s major CO2 emitters, has a key role to play in reducing (and eventually eliminating) emissions from all sectors by mid-century.

In 2020, Chinese President, Xi Jinping announced that China will scale up its national climate action plans (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) by adopting more vigorous policies and measures to achieve peak CO2 emissions before 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

Getty Images | Yuhan Liao
Getty Images | Yuhan Liao

Since the Chinese government’s announcement RMI’s China team and The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) have launched the China 2050 report: A Fully Developed Rich Zero-Carbon Economy - setting out an optimistic, but realistic message that it is indeed possible to decarbonise the harder-to-abate sectors of the Chinese economy by mid-century.

According to China 2050 the transition would cost less than 1% of GDP, with only a minor impact on consumer prices. The technologies required to achieve this already exist, and far from constraining China’s ability to meet its objective of being “a fully developed rich economy”, the report shows that committing to achieve zero emissions by 2050 will spur investment and innovation that could accelerate its wider progress.


Honouring the commitment will also deliver large improvements in local air quality and create huge opportunities for Chinese technological leadership in multiple industries. The key actions needed to achieve a zero-carbon economy include:

  • Total electrification of surface transport (road and rail services), while still supporting a threefold increase in transport use

  • The use of biofuels, synthetic fuels, hydrogen, or ammonia to drive decarbonisation of long-distance international aviation and shipping

  • A shift toward a more circular economy, with far more efficient use and greater recycling of key materials

  • The use of electrification, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and bioenergy to achieve full decarbonisation of heavy industries

  • The wider deployment of advanced heat pump technologies plus state-of-the-art building insulation

Importantly, the feasibility of the transition does not rely on the assumption that there will be fundamental and currently unknown research breakthroughs and the country is well placed to gain technological competitive advantage from the transition.

To learn more about how RMI is providing the technical and economic pathways for China to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and reach a zero-carbon economy by 2050 visit their new website and sign up to their newsletter.