California-China Climate Institute Releases Groundbreaking Report Detailing Shared Pathways to Carbon Neutrality for the U.S. and China

May 05, 2021

BERKELEY – Just weeks after the U.S. and China committed to cooperatively tackle the climate crisis, the California-China Climate Institute, in partnership with the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Energy and Environmental Economics (E3), today released a groundbreaking report, “Getting to Net Zero: U.S.-China Framework and Milestones for Carbon Neutrality,” detailing shared pathways to carbon neutrality for the world’s two largest economies. 

"Getting to net zero is the challenge of our time, but it's also a historic opportunity to make our future better. Every single government, business and organization has a part to play, but it's the U.S. and China that will determine how far we go,” said Institute Chair and former California Governor Jerry Brown and Institute Vice Chair and former California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols. “Read this report closely and let's get to work – together."

Collectively, the U.S. and China account for more than 40 percent of global fossil fuel-related carbon emissions and this report asserts that neither country will be able to achieve its goals in isolation, and at a minimum, coordination and some level of cooperation on climate will be critical – and impactful. 

The report was produced with support from the Hewlett Foundation and is the first in a three-part series. The two remaining reports will be released later this spring and will provide an overview and analysis of recent deep decarbonization studies in the U.S. and China, respectively. Additional projects and research will be supported by a number of other philanthropic partners, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, ClimateWorks Foundation, Energy Foundation China and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, among others. 

Despite social, economic and political differences, today’s report finds that the U.S. and China share similar approaches for achieving carbon neutrality, reflected in six high-level strategies for reducing emissions – or “pillars” – including: energy demand reductions, electricity decarbonization, fuels decarbonization, electrification, non-energy carbon emission reductions, and carbon sequestration. 

Based on these shared pillars, the report lays out a series of shared carbon neutrality milestones for the U.S. and China for 2030, 2040, and 2050-2060 around the following metrics:

  • Share of non-fossil generation in total electricity generation. 
  • Share of low-carbon fuels in total fuels.
  • ZEV sales share of on-road passenger and freight vehicle sales. 
  • Share of electricity in building final energy consumption.  
  • Percent reduction in year 2019 industrial carbon emissions. 
  • Net increase in forest volume. 

The report argues that these milestones can provide a transparent, non-binding framework to measure progress toward long-term goals for both countries and help to set minimum levels of policy ambition over time. They would also provide a clear signal to industry and consumers on the pace and scale of technological change expected and help drive innovation and market growth, while reducing zero-emission technology costs.

Beyond the pillars and milestones of U.S.-China decarbonization, the report details priority areas for dialogue, research, development and deployment (RD&D) and international leadership to help the two countries meet their targets. It also identifies the range of policy and technology gaps – many shared – that the U.S. and China will need to overcome to achieve these milestones, from the institutional challenges of expanding renewable generation to the manufacturing and adoption challenges of rapidly increasing electric vehicle sales. Notably, the report identifies subnational action and collaboration, from U.S. states and China’s provinces, as key to addressing these challenges and getting to net zero. 

To help facilitate further coordination and cooperation, the report recommends that the U.S. and China establish a Carbon Neutrality Working Group, a natural successor to the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group, which brought both parties together from 2013 to 2017 and helped lay the foundation for the Paris Agreement. 

To supplement the recommendations of this report, and encourage further subnational cooperation, the Institute today also released an initial version of its new “States’ Climate Action Map,” an interactive map that allows users to track U.S. states with near- and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The map also enables users to see policy action across states by sector, including: energy supply, transportation, industry, buildings, natural and working lands and cross-sector policies. More detailed state-by-state data and more advanced analysis tools will be added to the map in the months ahead. The tool will also be expanded to include an interactive map featuring targets and policies across China’s provinces to help policymakers and researchers more easily identify policy gaps and alignment and additional opportunities for collaboration.

The University of California-wide California-China Climate Institute was launched in September 2019 and is housed jointly at UC Berkeley’s School of Law – through its Center for Law, Energy & the Environment – and the Rausser College of Natural Resources. The Institute works in partnership with the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua – one of China’s preeminent research institutions – as well with other University of California campuses, departments and leaders. Through joint research, training and dialogue, this Institute aims to inform policymakers, foster cooperation and partnership and drive climate solutions at all levels.

The full “Getting to Net Zero: U.S.-China Framework and Milestones for Carbon Neutrality,” report can be read here.