Provinces with transitions in industrial structure and energy mix performed best in climate change mitigation in China

China has announced its goal of reaching carbon neutrality before 2060. This appears to be a challenging goal, as China is still on its way toward reaching peak carbon emissions in approximately 2030.

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China has announced its goal of reaching carbon neutrality before 2060. This appears to be a challenging goal, as China is still on its way toward reaching peak carbon emissions in approximately 2030. China’s economic development has had a strong export orientation and concentrated on the manufacturing and construction industries, leading to a continuous increase in carbon emissions in the 2000-2013 period. In 2012-2013, China’s government realized the need for structural change, and the country gradually entered a new development phase called the “new normal”. With this change, China's carbon emissions declined from 2013 to 2016.

In this context, Zhifu Mi and Xinlu Sun from University College London evaluated the regional performance of climate change mitigation in China in the carbon-reducing period and explored different region’s motivations and obstructions. The paper, Provinces with Transitions in Industrial Structure and Energy Mix Performed Best in Climate Change Limitation in China, is published on Communications Earth & Environment.

A comprehensive assessment of regional climate mitigation performance is necessary to highlight the leaders and laggardsin China's carbon emission reduction during the carbon-reducing period from 2013 to 2016. Such a ‘naming and shaming’ process could pinpoint the critical factors in carbon reduction at a provincial level, promote interregional cooperation and mutual learning and help to guide future policy packages toward peak emissions and carbon neutrality. However, only a limited number of studies pay attention to this period. These studies explored the socioeconomic drivers of carbon emission changes in China but ignored to assess climate change mitigation performance at a regional level. Therefore, this study evaluates regional performance in emissions, efficiency, non-fossil fuel and climate policy by a Climate Change Mitigation Index (CCMI) during 2007-2017 and explores different region’s motivations and obstructions. The results provide policy instructions for carbon neutrality in China and other developing countries.

Provinces with industrial and energy transition were distinguished as leaders in the carbon reducing period, while those with over-reliance on energy production industries showed poor climate change mitigation performance. The recommended pathway for China to reach its carbon emission peak and carbon neutrality in the future is reducing fossilfuel consumption and improving development in the tertiary industry. Reducing reliance on carbon-intense industries and decoupling economic growth from fossil fuel consumption is critical for decarbonization in China. In addition, the development of non-fossil fuels is another factor that can help provinces improve their climate mitigation performance. 

The energy-outsourcing approach to reduce carbon emissions revealed in this study is a signal that policymakers should be alert to. The developed regions in China shifted their environmental cost and pressure to the energy exporters through energy outsourcing, while the energy exporters are usually less developed and have constrained capacity for technological progress and climate mitigation measures. A more effective system for decarbonization responsibility allocation is necessary to solve the problem of carbon leakage. The application of consumption-based carbon accounting is suggested to internalize negative externalities. Additionally, interregional cooperation between the provincial governments is urgently needed. China’s national carbon emissions trading market has been opened since July 2021, which is a good platform for promoting interregional cooperation.

Reference: 

Zhifu Mi and Xinlu Sun. Provinces with transitions in industrial structure and energy mix performed best in climate change mitigation in China. Communications Earth & Environment. 2021, 2, 182. 

Zhifu Mi

Dr, University College London