Chinas carbon neutral target 2060

China’s 2060 Carbon Neutral Target – Challenges and Opportunities

By Adrian Pang

China announced recently that the country pledges to speed up emissions reductions to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. The announcement by the Chinese president was a pleasant surprise for many experts, who along with environmentalists, welcomed the news and opined that this significant step by the world’s largest polluting nation will significantly slow climate change. Some even called the announcement “the most significant climate policy move for years” (China’s carbon neutral pledge could curb global warming by 0.3 degrees Celsius: Researchers, 2020). Researchers from Climate Action Tracker said the move could curb global warming by 0.2 to 0.3 degrees Celsius this century if China achieves the target (China going carbon neutral before 2060 would lower warming projections by around 0.2 to 0.3 degrees C, 2020). Under this goal, China also pledged that its emissions would peak before 2030 before undergoing drastic reduction until 2060.

China carbon neutral targetChart for illustrative purposes only. Source: Paia Consulting

This is a significant milestone as the country is the biggest carbon emitter in the world. Prior to the announcement, China was reserved in its long-term commitment to carbon neutrality. The country’s previous goal was to reach emissions peak by 2030 at the latest. As the largest emitter in the world, China accounts for 28% of the world’s emissions (Myers, 2020). This figure dwarfs the proportion of total emissions – 11% of the over 60 countries that pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in 2017 (Sengupta & Popovich, 2020). With China’s commitment, the world might witness a nearly 40% carbon emissions reduction between 2050-2060. However, as with many of the aforementioned 60 countries, China also did not specify how it plans to achieve the targets. At present, these question marks will continue casting shadows on China’s ambition until the country set out a solid action plan with near- and long-term targets. Even so, it is obvious a critical area of focus would be its energy scene. Here, we look at China’s energy landscape to examine challenges and opportunities while awaiting the plans from the government.

Challenges: Energy Revolution Still in the Pipeline

The sector with perhaps the biggest role to play is the energy sector. China still relies on fossil fuels for about 85% – with coal at 60%, of power production (Shepherd, 2020). This amounts to about half of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. While the rest of the world is gradually shifting away from fossil fuels, China’s emissions rose in 2018 and 2019. The setback was induced by  the country’s efforts to boost a sluggish economy. In 2020, Beijing has approved coal-fired power plants at the fastest pace since 2015 (Hale, 2020). There were more construction permits granted for these power plants in the first six months of 2020 than 2018 and 2019 combined. This is evidently to regenerate the economy devastated by the pandemic but at the detriment of progress made on cutting coal consumption. As a result, carbon emissions from China’s main economic activities – energy production, cement making, and industrial uses were 4% higher year-on-year in 2020. This is despite an overall 25% pandemic-induced reduction of emissions at the start of the year. Therefore, reversing recent and current energy and emissions trends is pivotal to kickstart the 40-year plan to carbon neutrality.

The country’s upcoming five-year plan is expected to spell out necessary economic, industrial, and environmental agenda. Experts speculate the plan would maintain a cap on coal power capacity as well as accelerate the production of 20% of electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030 (Shepherd, 2020). Experts from Bernstein Research have estimated that China needs to reduce fossil fuels consumption from the 85% of total energy mix to 25% to reach carbon neutrality (Zhou & Yep, 2020). Unfortunately, there currently are no substantial incentives for grid operators to buy renewables, casting the spotlight on needs to reform power pricing mechanisms.

Elsewhere, China’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) struggles to make an impression. Its ETS, which would eclipse the EU in size and accounts for a third of China’s national emissions, has been delayed several times (Temple-West, 2020). China’s ETS encountered difficulties in establishing a comprehensive data collection system that would allow policymakers to set target levels and allocate carbon credits accordingly (ibid). It was also scaled back to limit carbon credits trading to the power generation sector rather than the eight industrial sectors [1] in the original outline (ibid). The numerous setbacks to establish the scheme have been hampered by the pandemic-induced economic downturn as well as political uncertainties. There are also persistent doubts on the effectiveness of the trading scheme. Overall, there needs to be equitable contribution by the stringency of the coal power cap, enforcement of regulations, power sector reforms, political and social will, etc for a country of China’s scale.

Then, there is the conundrum of disrupting socioeconomic and socioenvironmental status quo to pave way for rapid transitions. This is a legitimate issue, as China currently has the biggest population in the world at 1.4 billion people. The 40-year commitment equates to rapid transformation within one generation of people. Thus, there are potential upheavals for people’s lives and incomes in a still-industrialising country. This is because social fabrics and fundamentals like energy consumption, food production, physical mobility and works will be radically affected.

Opportunities: Press on with Progress

On the country’s renewable energy development, China’s capacity now accounts for 30% of the world’s total. It is currently a leader in clean energy technologies where it is leading in wind turbines and solar panels production and installation. Therefore, one of China’s main opportunities is to press forward with current progress such as speeding up the transition to renewable energies for its industrial and commercial sectors. China has also shown that it has the capacity on other fronts. Aside from renewable energy infrastructures, China is also a global leader in batteries and electric vehicles productions.

While the ETS has faced repeated setbacks, a nationwide scheme is nonetheless taking shape. Eight regional authorities, including those from the most populous Beijing and Guangdong regions are piloting their own ETS albeit at much lower scales. These pilot schemes cover more sectors than the national scheme. They operate alongside the national scheme with a view to be incorporated into the national programme eventually (Temple-West, 2020). In the process, there should be no new coal-fired power plants

More importantly, China’s focus on expediting its carbon neutral commitment will have significant “spillover” effects on the global energy landscape and emission reductions. A good example is the decreasing solar panels prices all around the world due to China’s high demand for solar energy (Pollitt, 2020). This would result in higher adoption of renewable technologies worldwide – and higher emissions reduction in other parts of the world even if other countries do not implement new climate policies (ibid). China is also the world’s biggest energy financier and biggest market aside from being the biggest emitter. It is consistently the top investor in clean energy globally for nine out of the last ten years according to the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management (Campbell, 2019). It has invested heavily in many developing parts of the world such as South America, Africa and Asia. While political intentions might be cornerstones of many of such investments, China’s contribution remain significant from the environmental perspective, driving the global transition to renewable energy.

Finally, a significant opportunity for China is its own governance and regulations. The country should implement more significant economic measures targeting at energy and emissions intensive sectors still reliant on fossil fuels and coals. The country can also have stronger enforcement of laws against environmental offenders. That might see a significant shift away from current fossil fuel driven economic discourse and paradigm. Socioeconomically, creative destructions of technology, skills, and jobs such as those in coal extraction spurred by the energy revolution are inevitable (Pollitt, 2020). Thus, transformations require fine balancing acts by the government to ensure a smooth transition to clean renewable energy sources, such as creating new industries and jobs as well as subsidising infrastructural developments. This is to ensure the least disruption will be caused to the socioeconomic stability of its society.

In essence, China’s 2060 pledge is driven by encouraging progress in the renewable energy sector. Together with other major actions and policies shift such as strengthening the ETS and tailoring carbon neutrality into the next Five-Year-plan, it is possible for China to reach zero carbon by 2060. All eyes are indeed on China’s 14th Five-Year-plan. Their next course of action will be pivotal for the climate change trajectory in the next decades.

What do you think are the challenges and opportunities as we await China’s action plans to achieve carbon neutrality? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

[1] Power generation, steel and iron, non-ferrous metal, building materials, chemical industry, petrochemical industry, paper making, civil aviation



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China’s carbon neutral pledge could curb global warming by 0.3 degrees Celsius: Researchers. (2020, September 24). Retrieved from Channel News Asia:

Hale, T. (2020, June 25). China expands coal plant capacity to boost post-virus economy. Retrieved from Financial Times:

Myers, S. L. (2020, September 25). China’s Pledge to Be Carbon Neutral by 2060: What It Means. Retrieved from The New York Times:

Pollitt, H. (2020, September 24). Analysis: Going carbon neutral by 2060 ‘will make China richer’. Retrieved from CarbonBrief:

Sengupta, S., & Popovich, N. (2020, September 25). More Than 60 Countries Say They’ll Zero Out Carbon Emissions. The Catch? They’re Not the Big Emitters. Retrieved from The New York Times:

Shepherd, C. (2020, September 23). China’s carbon pledge revives hopes of a climate game change. Retrieved from Financial Times:

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Zhou, O., & Yep, E. (2020, September 23). China’s carbon neutral pledge signals turning point for fossil fuel markets. Retrieved from S&P Global:


A Bright Solar PV Prospect for Singapore

By Adrian Pang

The Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS) hosted a recent webinar on the solar photovoltaic (PV) roadmap of Singapore. Dr. Thomas Reindle, CEO of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) presented a holistic summary of SERIS’s report that charts Singapore’s roadmap based on reviews and updates of its 2014 roadmap. The roadmap highlights Singapore’s great potential in expanding its solar PV infrastructure and services. Some of the key areas of development are:

    • Existing topics: space availability, space utilisation, increasing energy yield, levelised cost of electricity from solar PV (LCOE), possible scenarios for PV deployment, managing PV grid integration,
    • New topics: end-of-life PV recycling, repowering, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), and importing of solar energy.
  1. Space availability: Solar PV deployment is part of sustainable urban planning and it embodies the clean and green ‘Garden City’ vision that Singapore values. Solar PVs benefit the environment and have public acceptance as it is perceived to be safe. Space availability for different types of PV deployment is assessed based on these values and their respective potentials. Despite being a small island nation, Singapore can deploy five types of solar PV:
    • Rooftop (most common in Singapore)
    • Facades (for building-added and building-integrated PV, BAPV/BIPV[1]
    • Mobile-/land-based PV (temporary land use)
    • Floating PV (reservoirs, near-shore), and
    • Infrastructure PV (e.g. over-arching land, canals, roads, or PV noise barriers).
  1. Space Utilisation: Solar PV deployment in land-scarce Singapore also entails the highest utilisation and efficiency of technologies employed. While ultra-high efficient modules have similar levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) as most standard modules, they have higher area efficiency, hence higher space utilisation. Put simply, more electricity generation in a given surface area. At present, ultra-high-efficiency technologies have higher market prices due to limited availability but higher production and demand will drive process and cost down for the benefit of Singapore’s solar landscape in the future. Aside from technologies, increasing area factor of PV systems and implementing novel PV applications (e.g. co-location of rooftop PV with greenery, improving BIPV areas, expanding floating PV, etc.) can maximise space utilisation of PV systems in Singapore too.
  1. Increasing energy yield: Solar technologies are also important to maximise PV system’s energy yield from its installed capacity. A well-designed system in Singapore has an initial “Performance Ratio” (PR) value of above 80% with a typical degradation rates of 0.8% per annum. The degradation is caused largely by Singapore’s high temperature climate conditions. Therefore, a PV system with good ventilation or technologies to regulate temperature (e.g. Floating PV) is beneficial in increasing energy yield. The “Floating PV testbed” at Tengeh Reservoir is found to have 5% to 15% higher energy yield. Next, the highly distributed nature of small individual systems in Singapore requires smart operation and maintenance, and fleet management to maintain effective energy yield and performance consistently. Approaches such as predictive and preventive maintenance based on big data, Artificial Intelligence, comprehensive diagnostics of issues, etc. are important to maintain a lean but efficient operation and maintenance of Singapore’s sprawling solar PV systems.
  1. Planning, management and development: Apart from physical infrastructure development, good strategic planning and actions are required to upscale solar PV systems in Singapore.
    • Minimising the levelised cost of electricity from solar PV (LCOE): LCOE is a well-established method in energy finance and policy that calculates the generation cost at the point of connection to a load or power grid. In an energy market, sources that have lower LCOE are preferred and prioritised. Therefore, solar energy should strive to achieve lower LCOE through the continuous research and development.
    • Possible scenarios for PV deployment: a scenario-based approach charts the potential development trajectories of solar PV deployments. In Singapore, there are two scenarios that are associated with different levels of adoption and technological advancements – “Baseline” (BAS) and “Accelerated” (ACC).
    • Managing PV grid integration: As renewable energies are highly varied in nature, solar PV faces challenges from other renewable sources to be the preferred renewable energy source in Singapore. An all-encompassing and comprehensive approach that includes assessing global development trends in the renewables sphere, PV grid integration measures (supply and demand side management, energy storage system (ESS), grid upgradation, and new equipment), and grid impact assessment of PV (demand profile and ramp rate impact, distribution network impact, inertia and reserve requirements, and protection system) are required to solidify solar PV’s status as Singapore’s preferred renewable energy source.

Aside from the existing topics that require constant improvements, the updated project also identified new topics that are crucial for the development of solar PV deployment in Singapore.

  1. Re-powering: As PV systems age, power generation equipments require replacement with the latest technologies that have higher efficiencies, better performance and greater reliability. This is evident in the more mature wind industry where maximum power generation per tower and size of windmills have increased substantially. As the development of wind power project sites are usually time consuming, it is often more economical to upgrade existing systems.
  1. Recycling: As the solar industry grows exponentially, ageing PV modules are an upcoming waste issue that requires responsible management. A study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that PV waste was around 250 tonnes in 2016 and is expected to grow to 1.7-8 million tonnes by 2030. Ageing modules constitute hazardous waste if not managed properly. Therefore, recycling is crucial in the PV value chain. There is currently no PV recycling company in Singapore, as well as a lack of efficient and cost-effective PV management process locally due to the low volume of PV waste and a relatively young market. However, Singapore is projected to increase its solar capacity from the current 350 MWp to 2GWp by 2030. Coupled with the “re-powering” of old assets that accelerate the decommissioning of certain existing installations, “end-of-life” PV and system components require the formation of policy-based regulations and technological improvements to ensure safe and sustainable recycling.
  1. Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs): RECs are tradeable, non-tangible market instruments that represent proof that electricity was generated from a renewable energy (RE) source. There are two categories of RECs:
    • Bundled RECs: instruments whereby the “green attribute” is coupled with the electricity that is generated. Bundle RECs are generated and retired in tandem with the actual supply and consumption of electricity, thereby bound by certain considerations such as geographic constraints.
    • Unbundled RECs: instruments whereby the “green attribute” is decoupled from the electricity that is generated. Unbundled RECs do not provide physical delivery of electricity from a renewable source but rather its green attribute. Unbundled RECs allow for more flexibility as business can purchase them at different volumes and at any time based on internal business and sustainability goals and decisions.
  1. Importing of Solar Energy: Singapore can boost its share of renewable energy by importing from other countries in the forms of electricity or other energy carriers such as hydrogen (often referred as “solar fuels”). However, the premise of importing renewable energies also includes other renewable sources such as wind power, bioenergy, hydropower or geothermal. At present, these are the notable projects and developments:
    • Trans-border cable connections
      • PV system deployment in neighbouring countries (e.g. setting up Solar Farms in Malaysia and transporting energy generated across the Johor Strait)
      • Pan-Asian power grid interconnection (transnational super grids that foster large scale utilisation of renewable energy sources beyond regional co-operation)
    • Imports over greater distances
      • Off-shore floating solar farms (e.g. Singapore building off-shore solar farms in international waters of the South China Sea, supplying solar electricity via subsea cables to Singapore)
      • Long-distance cable connections
    • Importing solar fuels (e.g. Australia’s national hydrogen strategy focuses on developing and expanding its hydrogen export markets)

The webinar on the updated solar photovoltaic (PV) roadmap of Singapore concluded with the following priorities to increase solar power use in Singapore. First, there is a need for high to ultra-high efficiency solar technologies. Secondly, employing novel “urban solar” applications (cost-effective solutions with good deployment and no substantial substitutes type of potential developments). As for topics with increasing relevance for the solar PV sphere in Singapore, discussions around recycling and circular economy, urban heat island effect of PV in cities and bankability of PV in Singapore are gathering pace. Overall, Singapore possesses a high potential to make significant transitional steps to become a solar powered country.