China has had the world’s largest carbon footprint since 2004 and was responsible for 28.3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2017. As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has faced widespread criticism from the international community. Beijing also faces domestic pressure to address environmental concerns while maintaining economic growth. Having pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 60 to 65 percent as part of the Paris Agreement, how China manages these challenges affects both its ability to emerge as a leader in sustainable development and the broader fight against climate change.
China’s carbon market
Roughly 73 percent of China’s CO2 emissions – which is more than those from all European, African, and Latin American countries combined – results from this heavy dependence on coal. An additional 15 percent of its CO2 emissions come from oil. The industrial sector is China’s primary coal consumer. Manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and construction collectively made up 67.9 percent of China’s energy use and 54.2 percent of China’s coal use in 2015. Notably, this does not include power production activities, which were responsible for 41.8 percent of coal consumption. Construction-related activities are among the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions. China’s extraordinary urbanization boom has intensified these activities. The production of cement and steel, which have undergirded China’s infrastructure development, both emit a large amount of CO2 during the refining process.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage, or CCUS, is an important emissions reduction technology that can be applied across the energy system.
China has introduced CCS in 2013 in an effort to reduce industrial emissions, but the usage of the method still remains in its early development. At present, operational CCS capacity in China is no more than 2 million tons per annum of CO2 capture. This needs to increase by many magnitudes over the next fifteen years. The Paris Agreement has refocused attention on emissions reduction and CCS is becoming a more prominent part of that conversation in China. China has a broad portfolio of activities focused on CCS through directives and incentives issued by various levels of government. Policies tend to be focused on supporting individual projects/facilities, which are not always well publicized, and most often come to light through direct engagements with their proponents.
Carbon capture and storage is proven in use at various scales and across a range of industries in China, highlighting its versatility. The challenge for CCS deployment is not technology. As in the rest of the world, for CCS to be widely deployed in China, a supportive business case must be made. At its heart, this involves three intertwined factors: the setting of national emission reduction targets consistent with the aims of the Paris Agreement, the inclusion of CCS in national climate Actions Plans, and the establishment of policies that reward emission abatement through CCS.
Development of CO2 storage resources outside Enhanced Oil Recovery in China must be prioritized; not to do so raises the risk of CCS deployment being slowed by lack of data on storage resources. An important component of storage ‘availability’ in China is progressing the establishment of CCS-specific legal and regulatory regimes that will support the many hundreds of facilities that will emerge over the course of the next few decades. It remains to be seen if this will be part of the upcoming 5-year policy plan.
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