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Low-carbon Industrialization 'Possible but Hard'

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A research report issued by Chinese energy experts Wednesday suggests China could possibly follow a low-carbon path toward industrialization but the task would be hard.

The report said there would still be increases of greenhouse gas emissions in China as it headed toward industrialization and urbanization -- but if it found a low-carbon development path that fitted in with its reality, emissions might increase slowly or even reduce.

The report was issued by a research group of the Energy Research Institute, National Development and Reform Commission and another 10 institutes. More than 100 researchers were involved in the study.

China has set the target of becoming an industrialized and developed country by 2050.

The report warned China's current mode of economic development could not be sustained although it has achieved average growth of 10 percent annually during the past 30 years since the country adopted its opening up policy.

The report said the country's total energy consumption would exceed 100 billion tonnes of standard coal by 2050, far exceeding the global capacity, if the calculation was based on energy consumption growth from 2002 to 2008. The figure would be around 27 billion tonnes of standard coal, more than last year's global consumption of 16.1 billion, if based on growth in the 1978-2008 period.

Even if China turned itself into a country of high energy efficiency, even higher than today's Japan, energy consumption would still reach 7.8 billion tonnes of standard coal by 2050 and greenhouse gas emissions would be 17 billion tonnes, the report said.

As solutions, the experts have designed three scenarios: energy-saving, low-carbon and low-carbon process strengthening. In each choice the country's energy demands and carbon dioxide emissions would differ significantly.

In the first scenario, the country continues its effective energy saving efforts but ignores particular solutions to climate change. Its energy demand would increase from 2.25 billion tones of standard coal in 2005 to 6.69 billion in 2050. Carbon dioxide emissions would increase from 5.2 billion tonnes to 12.2 billion.

In the second scenario, the country changes its economic development and consumption models to more intensive ones and strengthens technological advances by way of a wide application of renewable and clean energies. Energy demand in 2050 would reduce to 5.56 billion tonnes of standard coal from the first scenario and carbon dioxide emissions would drop to 8.7 billion tonnes.

In the third scenario, China makes greater contributions to low-carbon economies while technical breakthroughs, such as carbon capture and storage, are effectively cooperated between developed and developing countries. The energy demand in 2050 would further drop to 5.02 billion tonnes of standard coal from the second scenario and carbon dioxide emissions would reduce to the same level as 2005.

Hu Xiulian, a research fellow of the institute and director of the project office, said, "We have made bold assumptions about the development of new energy technologies and international efforts during our scenario analysis. But, in reality, we have seen great challenges and difficulty in realizing the scenarios."

To follow the low-carbon path, the report said China must transfer its coal-centered energy structure to a "diverse" one, in which coal, oil and gas as well as new energies, contributed equally.

The country had to form a rational consumption model, choose energy-efficient production structures, boost eco-friendly technical innovations and build an efficient energy industry.

In the next 11 years, when people's livelihoods are projected to improve greatly, changes in lifestyles were also very important to realize a low-carbon target, the report said.

China might reduce the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions with a persistent policy of energy saving and emissions reduction, the experts said.

But the report said, "Without long-term sustentive technology transfers and financial support from abroad, it will be difficult for China to significantly reduce total carbon dioxide emissions."

It admitted uncertainties exist in changing the awareness of both the government and people, technical innovation, investment and international cooperation.

The experts estimate China might need to spend an extra 1 trillion yuan (US$146.45 billion) on low-carbon development annually. Who will pay? and how to use the investment remain a big question?

Prof. He Jiankun, deputy head of the national expert commission for climate change, said at the report's launch, China would have to explore a different path of industrialization from all developed countries if it chose low-carbon development.

"There is no model to follow in today's world. That's why it is a great challenge and a tough task," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency September 17, 2009)

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