Carbon Emissions Scenarios for China to 2100

China's economy is growing rapidly with nearly 10% per year increases in GDP over the last two decades. At the same time the economic expansion is leading to large increases in energy demand despite continuously decline in energy intensity between 1980 and 2000. Since 2000, with quick expansion of heavy industries such as iron and steel, China’s energy demand is rocketing with a reversed trend in energy intensity.

Coal continues to dominate the Chinese energy system despite a slowly declining share, and is fuelling the majority of new power generation capacity. China’s generation capacity has exceeded 700 GW in 2007, nearly 80% from coal. Demand for imported oil is also increasing sharply as car ownership rises and domestic oil output matures. China's oil import dependence is going to exceed 50% in 2010 compared with 29% in 2000. Demand for natural gas is also growing, and largely exceeds China's supply capacity. These trends bring with them a number of pressing challenges. Securing enough energy to sustain economic growth is an important priority for the Chinese government. Alongside this, more attention is being given to addressing the environmental side effects of economic development. These include desertification, air and water pollutions. They also include an increasingly large contribution to international environmental problems, particularly climate change. China is now the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important greenhouse gas (GHG) , after a 50% increase between 2000 and 2005. Furthermore, some areas of China will be increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as increased flooding and desertification.

Aware of the huge challenges ahead, the Chinese government has set up various measures and target to reduce China’s reliance on fossil fuels, particularly coal and mitigate the impacts of rapid economic growth. But effects of these measures are yet to be seen, and they are at the best only starters of what are needed to address China’s environmental concerns and its implications to the international challenge of tackling climate change. Against this background, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is conducting a research project on China’s Energy Transition: Strategies to Mitigate Carbon Lock-in. The project began in August 2006 and will be completed in March 2009. The project aims to assess alternative energy futures for China, and to evaluate the scope for mitigating CO2 emissions.

A key question is whether China can avoid the problem of ‘carbon lock-in’ that is faced by most developed countries. This is characterised by dependence on carbon intensive energy systems and infrastructure that is difficult to change. The project is exploring a range of scenarios for China’s future energy trends and carbon emissions, and aims to inform policy making in both China and the UK. To date, the project has examined the unfolding energy transition in China through a historical analysis of energy supply and demand trends, and of policy and institutional developments. This initial research has also analysed available scenarios that explore potential future energy developments. It has considered scenarios developed by the Energy Research Institute (ERI) of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) for China, and those by other international research groups. This working paper summarises a new set of cumulative carbon emissions scenarios for China to 2050 and 2100 that have been developed within the project. These are based partly on methods that were developed by the Tyndall Centre to explore future carbon emissions in the UK (Mander et al.). The paper first summarises the results of some previous scenario exercises from both the UK and China.

The second section of the paper explains the methodology that has been used for the new set of scenarios. The third section of the paper provides more details of the four scenarios that have been chosen, including the profile of emissions over time, and key quantitative and qualitative characteristics. Finally, preliminary conclusion and the next steps for the project are briefly outlined. The scenarios presented in this paper have been developed through a considerable process of dialogue with a range of organisations within China and the UK. Two workshops have been held to aid this process, one in the Beijing in 2007 and another one in London in 2008. Discussion on these two workshop have provided valuable insights from both Chinese and international experts on China's future development. We have incorporate most of them into our scenario building.

Wang, T., and J. Watson

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