Climate change: China must lead on fossil fuel phase-out, as world struggles to limit global-warming impact, report says

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China’s control of its future fossil fuel production and consumption is crucial for keeping the world under 1.5 degrees Celsius of human-induced temperature rise, and the country must phase out all fossil fuels rather than promoting the “clean” utilisation of coal, oil, and gas, scientists urged ahead of the United Nations climate summit.

For the first time, China’s projections of its production and consumption of fossil fuels from its state-owned enterprises are aligned with the country’s 2060 carbon neutrality goal, according to a report produced by organisations including Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Climate Analytics, E3G, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on Wednesday.

But at the same time, China leads the rest of the world in greenhouse gas emissions, emitting nearly 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021 and nearly doubling the emissions of the US, the second biggest emitter, the report showed.

“What China does to align coal and oil and gas production and consumption will be crucial and keeping the 1.5 degrees target alive,” Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and SEI scientist, said earlier this week.

An aerial photo taken on July 20, 2023, shows a photovoltaic power plant in Yi-Hui-Miao Autonomous County of Weining, in southwest China’s Guizhou Province. Photo: Xinhua

This is especially true because the report, which assesses the climate plans and policies of 20 of the world’s largest fossil-fuel-producing countries, rings alarm bells ahead of the COP28 climate summit to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, starting November 30.

It found that governments are on track to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be needed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, and 69 per cent more than would be consistent with warming of 2 degrees.

Taken together, government plans and projections would lead to an increase in global coal production until 2030, and in global oil and gas production until at least 2050, which conflicts with commitments under the Paris Agreement, the report found. It also clashes with previous expectations by the International Energy Agency that global demand for coal, oil, and gas would peak within this decade even without new policies.


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Although 17 of the 20 countries featured in the report have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions, none has committed to reducing coal, oil, and gas production in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

The researchers urged that coal must be phased out by 2030 in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and by 2040 elsewhere. The G20 countries must take the lead in ending licensing and funding for new oil and gas, they added.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. The country aims to “phase down” its coal use starting in 2026 to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2060.

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However, the report found that like many other governments, China has been promoting the “clean and efficient” development of fossil fuels and bolstering energy security as a central theme in government discourse for its dual-carbon goals following rounds of power outages across the nation in the past two years. The country has been expanding coal production capacity since, raising concerns from climate experts on China’s climate promise.

Governments engaging in narratives about cleaner, lower-carbon fossil fuels is “worrisome”, Achakulwisut said, as analysis shows the world needs to phase out all fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

China has not issued any official government projections for fossil fuel production yet. Based on coal import projections by state-owned Sinopec, China’s coal production is estimated to reach around 3.7 to 3.9 billion tonnes in the 2025-2030 period before declining. However, the China Coal Industry Association has set a 2025 coal production target of 4.1 billion tonnes, and China’s domestic coal and gas production reached record highs in 2022 of around 4.5 billion tonnes and 220 billion cubic meters, respectively.

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According to projections by the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, national gas production will increase by 56 per cent between 2020 and 2030, and by 13 per cent between 2030 and 2050. Oil production is expected to remain flat between 2020 and 2030, before declining by 10 per cent between 2030 and 2050.

“Governments’ plans to expand fossil fuel production are undermining the energy transition needed to achieve net-zero emissions, throwing humanity’s future into question,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP in a statement on Wednesday.

“Powering economies with clean and efficient energy is the only way to end energy poverty and bring down emissions at the same time.”

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