A Pathway For China To Peak Emissions by 2025

December 21, 2021

In September 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out China’s overarching climate policy goals: to peak emissions before 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. China’s recently-updated Nationally-Determined Contribution, submitted to the UN in November 2021, reiterates these objectives.

In the near-term, China’s 14th Five-Year Plan Outline, released earlier this year, provides guidance for the 2021-2025 period, outlining objectives to reduce energy intensity by 13.5%, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions 18%, while adding approximately 75 gigawatts of new solar and wind capacity per year. In October 2021, China released policy guidance for achieving its near- and long-term climate ambitions through its Working Guidance for Carbon Dioxide Peaking and Carbon Neutrality, and Action Plan for Achieving Carbon Peaking Before 2030.

However, these plans did not outline a specific year for achieving carbon peaking, and recent analysis has shown that China may actually be able to achieve peaking earlier than its stated goal. In addition, preliminary analysis of China’s recent energy trends suggests that the existing 14th Five-Year Plan targets may underestimate the step-shift already underway within the country, and that peaking by 2025 may even be feasible. 

New research from the University of California’s California-China Climate Institute examines a potential trajectory for China to reach an emissions peak by the end of its current 14th Five-Year Plan period: 2025. The new report, Peaking by 2025: Aligning Climate and Energy Goals in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, offers an analytic framework for the combinations of emissions and energy targets that would be needed to reach this more stringent goal. 

It outlines two main tactics for reducing emissions: 1) managing demand growth; and 2) increasing the share of renewables in its energy mix, yielding overall carbon dioxide intensity reductions. It identifies several updated goals that could help China achieve emissions peaking by 2025:  

  14th Five-Year Plan
Outline Goals
Goals Consistent with a
2025 CO2 Peak
Energy intensity reduction 13.5%  >16%
Total solar and wind generation capacity additions 76 GW per year > 100 GW per year
CO2 intensity reduction 18% > 21%

 To achieve these objectives, the report argues, would require a continuation of several trends: 

  • Shifting toward services sector-driven economic growth;
  • Electrifying the transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors, and
  • Setting more stringent energy efficiency standards, including for appliances and equipment. 

Additional details on how China will aim to reach the goals outlined in its 14th Five-Year Plan will soon be released in 2022, with anticipated sector-specific implementation plans forthcoming. These will shed additional light on what may be possible by 2025.

To learn more, read the full report here.