Will China achieve its 2060 carbon neutral commitment from the provincial perspective?

New paper in Advances in Climate Change Research

Li-LiSun a 1, Hui-JuanCui, a Quan-ShengGe b

a Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
b University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China

Received 19 August 2021, Revised 1 November 2021, Accepted 10 February 2022, Available online 16 February 2022, Version of Record 23 March 2022.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.accre.2022.02.002 Get rights and content

Under a Creative Commons license Open access


China has pledged to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and strive to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. However, the significant variations of provincial carbon emissions make it unclear whether they can jointly fulfill the national carbon peak and neutrality goal. Thus, this study predicts the emission trajectories at provincial level in China by employing the extended STIRPAT (Stochastic Impacts by Regression on Population, Affluence, and Technology) model to see the feasibility and time of reaching peak carbon emissions and carbon neutrality. We found that most provinces can achieve peak emission before 2030 but challenging to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, even considering the ecological carbon sink. The provincial neutrality time is concentrated between 2058 and 2070; the sooner the carbon emission peaks, the earlier the carbon neutral will be realized. The aggregated carbon emissions at provincial level show that China can achieve its carbon emission peak of 9.64–10.71 Gt before 2030, but it is unlikely to achieve the carbon neutrality goal before 2060 without carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). With high CCUS development, China is expected to achieve carbon neutrality in 2054–2058, irrespective of the socio-economic scenarios. With low CCUS development, China’s carbon neutrality target will be achieved only under the accelerated-improvement scenario, while it will postpone to 2061 and 2064 under the continued-improvement and the business-as-usual scenarios, respectively.


China’s carbon neutralityPeak emissionProvincial emissionCCUSSTIRPAT

1. Introduction

In 2015, the Paris Agreement has set long-term temperature goals to control the global average warming at 2 °C and strive to limit it to 1.5 °C by the end of the 21st century. However, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continued to grow and reach a record high of 52.4 Gt CO2e in 2019 without evidence of having peaked yet (BP, 2021). To meet the 2 °C temperature goal, all countries need to reduce additional GHG emissions of 12–19 Gt to their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2030 and reach global CO2 emissions peak as soon as possible (UNEP, 2020). Besides, carbon neutrality by the mid-21st century is required to achieve the 1.5 °C goal (IPCC, 2018). Till now, many countries have started to make new pledges to carbon neutrality or zero-emission such as the European Union (EU), Japan, the Republic of Korea, Canada, etc., who have announced goals of carbon neutrality by 2050 (European Commission, 2018NPR, 2020Tradelink Publications, 2020 Canada Government, 2020).

China contributed 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 (UNEP, 2020). As the first developing country to submit NDCs, the Chinese government committed to reaching peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and striving to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 in September 2020 (The Chinese Foreign Ministry, 2020). According to Climate Action Tracker (CAT, 2020), if China achieves its announced goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060, it would lower global warming projections by around 0.2–0.3 °C, closer to the 1.5 °C warming limit of the Paris Agreement. Whether China can fulfill its carbon peak and neutral commitments is of great significance to the realization of the Paris Agreement. Compared with some developed countries whose emissions have peaked such as Canada, United Kingdom, and Japan, China’s carbon emissions are in a growth phase. The proposal of carbon neutrality by 2060 implies that China will have a shorter time to implement large-scale emission reduction after peaking around 2030 (Huang and Zhai, 2021). The timing of carbon emissions peak directly determines the available time and the amount of emission reduction to be completed from carbon peak to carbon neutrality (Hu, 2021). There is no doubt that achieving carbon neutrality in such a short period would be a great challenge for China and lack of lessons can be learned from the developed countries’ experiences (Yu et al., 2021). Therefore, the investigation into China’s peak and neutrality path would be of great importance to the world by providing a new possibility and could be informative for other developing countries, like India, whose GHG emission still rises and is highly likely to become the next largest emitters after China (Jiang et al., 2019). In that sense, it is of global significance to focus on China’s carbon peaking and carbon neutralization and to design a clear emission reduction roadmap as soon as possible, especially the provincial roadmap.

Confined by different population distribution, resource endowment, and socio-economic development, the reduction potential of carbon emissions vary considerably across China’s provinces (Zhang et al., 2020). More developed regions have lower energy intensities, higher energy efficiencies, and advanced emission reduction technology, facilitating an earlier peak of emissions (Li et al., 2017aLi et al., 2017bDu et al., 2017Su et al., 2014). For example, As one of the low carbon pilot cities in China, Beijing has announced that its carbon emissions peak in 2020 (Cui et al., 2020). On the other hand, Guangdong, another developed province, will achieve peak CO2 emissions in 2020–2025 (Huang et al., 2013Cheng et al., 2015) or is unlikely to peak before 2030 (Wang et al., 2019). Chongqing will achieve peak CO2 emissions by approximately 2030 (Liang et al., 2014) or shortly after that (Liu et al., 2017). Some undeveloped western provinces like Shanxi, Shaanxi, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia are expected to reach peak CO2 emissions between 2025 and 2035 (Dong et al., 2017Li et al., 2017aLi et al., 2017bZhou et al., 2016). The difference in the peak time of carbon emissions across provinces are noteworthy. Different research predicted highly variable peak times even for the same province, ranging from 2 to 14 years. Shi (2020) predicted the peak of CO2 emissions in Shandong and Hebei would occur by 2025. But, Wang et al. (2021) believed Shandong is probably to reach carbon peaks after 2030 and even to 2045 due to its high energy intensity and low renewable energy utilization, while Hebei is probably to peak before 2026 relying on geographical advantages (affected by advance low-carbon technology in Beijing). It is primarily attributed to applying different methods and selecting various socio-economic drivers behind carbon emissions (i.e., population, GDP per capita, and energy intensity). Besides, some emission reduction plans were sorted out in provincial 14th Five-Year Plan. For example, Beijing and Tianjin have formulated policies to accelerate the energy structure reform and promote clean and efficient utilization of energy.

The drivers of carbon emissions are detected mainly by decomposition analysis, IPAT (Impact, Population, Affluence, and Technology) model and STIRPAT (Stochastic Impacts by Regression on Population, Affluence, and Technology) model. The STIRPAT was created based on the IPAT model, and it abandons unit elasticity assumption and adds randomness to facilitate empirical analysis (Fang et al., 2019Nguyen et al., 2019Ghazali and Ali, 2019). Therefore, the STIRPAT model is ahead of the IPAT model for more factors are considered and integrated to analyze scenarios for emission trajectory simulation. It can help policymakers seek feasible emission reduction paths since comparative estimate factors can observe all the possible outcomes. The drivers usually include population, urbanization, economy level, energy intensity, industrial structure, and energy structure. It is found that urbanization level, economic level, and industry structure promote carbon emission, while energy intensity, technology progress, and tertiary industry proportion decrease CO2 emissions (Wang et al., 20122017Shen et al., 2018). Besides, it is found that the driving factors of carbon emissions various across regions, even various in the same region (Inglesi-Lotz, 2018). Therefore, considering significant differences in population, economy, and carbon emissions, it is necessary to explore the driving factors of carbon emissions at provincial level.

When and how Chinese provinces will reach carbon peak and carbon neutrally remain unclear from existing literatures. To close this gap, this study aims to explore whether China can achieve its peak carbon emissions target before 2030 and the carbon neutrality target before 2060 from the provincial perspective. To that end, the STIRPAT model was applied to investigate the carbon emission drivers in China’s 30 provinces during 1995–2017 and predict their future emissions from 2018 to 2080 under different scenarios to see whether and when each province will achieve peak emissions and carbon neutrality. Finally, China’s overall carbon peak and neutrality were assessed with CCUS.


5. Conclusions

This study predicts the carbon emission trajectories of 30 provinces by employing the extended STIRPAT model and explore if they can achieve China’s targets of attaining peak carbon emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. We found that the sooner the carbon emissions peak, the earlier the carbon neutrality will be realized. Under the BAU scenario, most provinces in Group I, Group II, and Group III can achieve their peak carbon emissions in 2023–2030 but are unlikely to achieve the carbon-neutrality targets before 2060. Under the CIS scenario, all provinces can reach peak carbon emissions in 2021–2030, but only eight provinces, including Beijing and Hainan, can achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. Under the AIS scenario, all provinces can reach peak carbon emissions in 2021–2030, and roughly half of the provinces are expected to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

China can achieve its carbon emission peak of 9.64–10.71 Gt regardless of the scenarios before 2030. However, it would be hard to achieve its neutrality goal before 2060 without CCUS, where additional carbon reduction or negative emission of 519–2631 Mt is needed. With the low CCUS development, China is likely to achieve its carbon neutrality target only under the AIS. In contrast, with the high CCUS development, China can achieve its neutrality target regardless of the scenario, with the neutrality times being around 2058 (BAU), 2056 (CIS), and 2054 (AIS).

Significant variations found in carbon reduction ratio, peak time, and neutral time in provinces suggest that socio-economic disparities should be considered when formulating targeted mitigation policies. For provinces like Beijing and Shanghai that would achieve carbon emission peak and carbon neutrality targets under one and two scenarios, improving the energy intensity is the key to quicken peak carbon emission and carbon neutrality time. For provinces like Shandong and Chongqing that would achieve peak carbon emissions but are unlikely to achieve carbon neutrality targets under one and two scenarios, it is necessary to adjust the energy consumption structure for achieving the carbon reduction target as soon as possible. For provinces like Inner Mongolia, Anhui, and Hebei that would neither achieve carbon emission peak nor the carbon-neutrality target under at least one and two scenarios, it is crucial to change the economic development pattern, control urbanization growth rate, and formulate stricter environmental regulations. Furthermore, given the contribution of CCUS to China’s carbon neutrality target before 2060, it is imperative to develop CCUS technology vigorously and design an appropriate roadmap of the CCUS strategy as soon as possible.

Read the full paper here.

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April 9, 2022 10:41 pm

2 word answer NO WAY

Reply to  H B
April 10, 2022 5:43 am

CCP speaks.

William Capron
Reply to  H B
April 10, 2022 11:40 am

Is there a stated optimal co2 level for the planet? I’m guessing, if there is, we’re not there yet. This optimum is what we should be striving for, but it doesn’t fit the narrative.

Reply to  William Capron
April 10, 2022 2:05 pm

1200+ ppm

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  H B
April 10, 2022 7:40 pm

A little low but ok.
The neurologically delayed will say 145, and then claim to have misunderstood the question as “how can we purify the planet of the two legged untermention”.

Destroying the planet to save it is their strategy after all

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  H B
April 11, 2022 1:45 pm

If they do not do it, we are gonna have to give them a stern talking to in 40 years.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  H B
April 11, 2022 1:46 pm

Imagine people today caring one whit about something that was agreed upon in principle back in the 1970s?

Serge Wright
April 10, 2022 12:00 am

The west is full of brainwashed people who believe everything communicated by the CCP. Promises of CO2 reductions are no different to claims the virus had natural origins.

Reply to  Serge Wright
April 10, 2022 5:48 am

I tasted the bat soup but did not swallow.

The Dark Lord
April 10, 2022 1:47 am

ha ha … they have no intention of meeting any of these “promises” … only unserious people discuss it like they do …

April 10, 2022 2:54 am

China can promise anything it likes about the production of CO2, it won’t happen because in around 10 years from now the whole CAGW scam will have been exposed and everyone else will be back using coal and oil/gas just like China is doing now.

Me an optomist?

Well, the alternative is too awful to contemplate.

April 10, 2022 3:30 am

China will deliver exactly what they say they are going to deliver …. because no one can check their numbers. Their opacity means we have to take their word for it. Just look at the preposterous data they provided for CV-19 over the past two years.

Reply to  Steve4192
April 10, 2022 5:54 am

And now Shanghai in lockdown. What’s next?

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Scissor
April 10, 2022 7:42 pm

Locked down, and the death rate dropped below average

All part of the plan to reinflate the population

Ron Long
April 10, 2022 3:49 am

China has to be looking at Russia and thinking that those vodka-fueled idiots have both displayed incredible imcompetence and destroyed a large portion of their military capability that the country is open for the taking. China only needs to neutralize a lot of Russian nukes, then rush north in their fossil-fueled tanks (no ET’s for them!), and expand as they wish. This gets worse and worse, and fossil fuels now represent security to many and is lacking for others, those lacking trying to make a deal with the devil. What a mess.

Reply to  Ron Long
April 10, 2022 5:05 am

Time to take Manchuria back…

Richard Page
Reply to  Ron Long
April 10, 2022 2:10 pm

All of the equipment Russia has lost in Ukraine is older, legacy equipment that would have been scrapped under its modernisation programme eventually anyway. None of the most modern up-to-date vehicles or equipment has been deployed in Ukraine up to now. Whether this actually constitutes a significant part of their arsenal is uncertain, but doubtful. As to the personnel committed to Ukraine, estimates vary but are somewhere around the 70-90,000 mark including a lot of conscripts and fewer of the professional army or contractors (the Russian military employs nearly twice as many contractors as professional soldiers – over 400,000). Despite the problems, Russia may not have committed such a ‘large portion’ of it’s armed forces as first appears.

Peta of Newark
April 10, 2022 4:37 am

As I came to understand, China has no choice about meeting that ‘zero’ target

At present rates of consumption/expansion of coal, they’re going to entirely run out of the stuff before then.

Nicely corresponding to the time that all the solar panels currently being installed are due their replacement.
(and about 15 years before the date that the UN predicted all the World’s soil would be used up)
Things are just ‘warming up‘ right now.

Ain’t that just the craziest thing – a warming atmosphere represents a Cooling Earth – unless you know better than Entropy, Jozef Stefan, The 2nd Law, Carnot, Joule, Chatelier and, not least, your own lying eyes.

Sugar is in a whole different league to even Cocaine, Xtal meth and LSD. Amazing stuff.
(and there’s now nothing else to eat)

April 10, 2022 4:41 am

Sure China is going to give up energy security to put itself where the EU now finds itself … and if you believe that you are more stupid than Griff 🙂

Reply to  LdB
April 10, 2022 5:03 am

No one is more stupid than griff.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Chaswarnertoo
April 10, 2022 7:44 pm

Barry Anthony gets points for trying

April 10, 2022 5:04 am

China has no intention of meeting net zero. Stupid round eyes!

April 10, 2022 5:17 am

Will China achieve its 2060 carbon neutral commitment from the provincial perspective?
NO! The PRC will do whatever is deemed best for those that rule it.

April 10, 2022 7:04 am

Gotta love model based paths to nowhere. The IPCC just produced 3,000 pages worth.

Reply to  David Wojick
April 10, 2022 7:06 am
Dave Fair
Reply to  David Wojick
April 10, 2022 10:45 am

… money for nothing and the chicks are free.

April 10, 2022 8:46 am

They don’t care about carbon:

China has accelerated an expansion of its nuclear arsenal because of a change in its assessment of the threat posed by the U.S., people with knowledge of the Chinese leadership’s thinking say, shedding new light on a buildup that is raising tension between the two countries.

Walter Sobchak
April 10, 2022 4:30 pm

Intellectual self stimulation. The truth is that the CCP, and probably a solid majority of Chinese people, see carbon use as an obsession of white liberals. They will say anything to make sure the white people are happy, and do just what they like. They will continue to build coal fired power plants at flank speed and sell those plants to customers in Africa and Asia. No down payment, easy trems, low monthly payments. Come to Trader Xi. We’re dealin’.

April 11, 2022 10:53 am

China has no intention of doing anything that will put it at a disadvantage. It has seen time after time that the west is gullible and easily taken advantage of. They know they can say anything they want and their apologists in the west will accept it and embrace it. Remember we are not all apologists and we need to point that out to those who are.

Nicholas McGinley
April 11, 2022 1:44 pm

2060 seems to be the sort of target date one would choose if the idea was to do nothing but make some promises that no one will be obligated to fulfill.

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