Energy and carbon scenarios of China for the 21st Century

Dr Tao Wang, Sussex Energy Group and Tyndall Centre 

China’s economy has expanded rapidly during the last two decades at nearly 10% per year. This has lead to a quick expansion of energy demand and carbon emission as well. Primary energy demand in China has increased more than 50% between 2000 and 2005 and so has China’s carbon emissions. Believed as the world’s largest CO2 emitter, China does not have binding target for carbon emissions under the current international climate policy regime. China expects to quadruple the size of its economy by 2020 in comparison with the level in 2000, whilst only doubling its energy demand. The Chinese government also aims to reduce energy intensity by 20% by 2010.

The large size of China’s fast growing economy has significant implications for the future of climate change. This has put China at the forefront of international climate negotiations, and has led to mounting pressure on China to take more actions to reduce its emissions. As a developing country, there are important questions about how China can decouple economic growth from intensive growth in energy demand and carbon emissions – and ultimately, how China can move to a situation where emissions eventually plateau and begin to fall.

This paper will report on work in progress within a Tyndall Centre project on the future of China’s carbon emissions. It will develop and analyse a set of alternative scenarios for China’s future carbon emissions and energy demand for the remainder of the 21st century. These are derived from a range of global cumulative emissions budgets, combined with different assumptions about the share of these budgets that might be available for China. The scenarios explore a range of future pathways for emissions, and include a range of future dates in which emissions growth might slow and eventually be reversed. The paper will explore the implications of each scenario for China’s main economic sectors (e.g. transport, power generation and industry). It will also include some consideration of critical policies and technologies which will be consistent with each scenario pathway. The paper will conclude with some tentative implications of the scenarios for Chinese policies in the short to medium term – and for China’s role in the ongoing international negotiations for a global climate deal beyond 2012.

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