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China In brief

What is Chinaʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

Economy wide

A 1.5°C compatible pathway would require China to reduce emissions by 18% below 2005 levels by 2030 (or to reach emissions levels of 6.4 GtCO₂e/yr), excluding LULUCF. This assessment is in line with an earlier study, which found that China’s GHG emissions would need to peak almost immediately and double the non-fossil fuel energy share target by 2030.3

Chinaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions

2030 NDC

In October 2021, China officially submitted its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that includes the following targets: peak CO₂ emissions before 2030, reduce carbon intensity of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by over 65% below 2005 levels, and increase non-fossil fuel energy consumption to around 25%.1 Achieving these targets would result in estimated emissions levels of 13.4-14.7 GtCO₂e/yr by 2030, excluding LULUCF, or 72-88% above 2005 levels.2

1 The People’s Republic of China. China’s Achievements, New Goals and New Measures for Nationally Determined Contributions. 2021.

2 Climate Action Tracker. China. November 2022 update. Climate Action Tracker. 2022.

3 Yvonne Deng, Ursula Fuentes, Hare, B., Welder, L. & Gidden, M. U.S. and China Climate Goals : Scenarios for 2030 and Mid-Century. 2020.

4 Climate Action Tracker. China. May 2022 update. Climate Action Tracker. 2022.

5 Liu, Q. et al. Pathway and policy analysis to China’s deep decarbonization. Chinese J. Popul. Resour. Environ. 15, 39–49 (2017).

6 Zheng, X. et al. Drivers of change in China’s energy-related CO2 emissions. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 117, 29–36 (2020).

7 IEA. Key World Energy Statistics. 2021.

8 Bahr, A. China’s coal capacity surge need not be at odds with ambitious climate action. China Dialogue. 2020.

9 Myllyvirta, L., Zhang, S. & Shen, X. Analysis: Will China build hundreds of new coal plants in the 2020s? Carbon Brief. 2020).

10 Global Energy Monitor et al. Boom and Bust Coal 2022. 2022.

11 Climate Action Tracker. New momentum reduces emissions gap, but huge gap remains – analysis. Climate Action Tracker. 2021.

12 Reuters. China to cut coal use share below 56% in 2021. Reuters. 2021.

13 Wang, C. N. Brief: Coal phase-out in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): an analysis of Chinese-backed coal power from 2014-2020. 2021.

14 Wang, C. N. China Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Investment report 2021. Green BRI Center, International Institute of Green Finance (IIGF). 2022.

15 Kusmer, A. China launches world’s largest carbon market. PRI. 2021.

16 Farand, C. China launches world’s largest carbon market for power sector. Climate Home News. 2021.

17 Jinping, X. Full Text: Remarks by Chinese President Xi Jinping at Leaders Summit on Climate. Xinhuanet. 2021.

18 Xinhua. China unveils plan for new energy vehicle industry. Xinhuanet. 2021.

19 Lutsey, N., Cui, H. & Yu, R. Evaluating Electric Vehicle Costs and Benefits in China in the 2020 – 2035 Time Frame. 2021.

20 Liu, H., Liu, J. & You, X. Q&A: What does China’s 14th ‘five year plan’ mean for climate change? Carbon Brief. 2021.

21 Xu, M. & Singh, S. China cuts ‘carbon intensity’ 18.8% in past five years, in effort to rein in emissions. Reuters. 2021.

22 IEA. Coal Information: Overview. 2020.

23 World Resources Institute. Accelerating the Net-Zero Transition: Strategic Action for China’s 14th Five-Year Plan. 2020. doi:

24 IEA. Renewables 2021 Analysis and forecasts to 2026. 2021.

25 The People’s Republic of China. China’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy. 2021.

26 IEA. World Energy Outlook 2021. 2021.

27 Murphy, B. Outline of the People’s Republic of China 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives for 2035 (English translation). 2021.

28 Yu, Y. Renewable Energy in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan: Five Changes. Energy Iceberg. 2021.

29 Hu, Y. & Cheng, H. The urgency of assessing the greenhouse gas budgets of hydroelectric reservoirs in China. Nat. Clim. Chang. 3, 708–712. 2013.

30 Li, S., Zhang, Q., Bush, R. T. & Sullivan, L. A. Methane and CO2 emissions from China’s hydroelectric reservoirs: a new quantitative synthesis. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 22, 5325–5339. 2015.

31 Xie, X., Jiang, X., Zhang, T. & Huang, Z. Regional water footprints assessment for hydroelectricity generation in China. Renew. Energy 138, 316–325. 2019.

32 Yuefang, D. & Steil, S. China Three Gorges Project resettlement: Policy, planning and implementation. J. Refug. Stud. 16, 422–434. 2003.

33 Lewis, C. China’s Great Dam Boom: A Major Assult on Its Rivers. Yale Environment 360. 2013.

34 Yu, Y. China’s 14th Five-Year Plan for Power Industries (2): No Plans for Wind, Solar & Hydro? Energy Iceberg. 2020.

35 IEA. An Energy Sector Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality in China. 2021.

36 Sandalow, D. Guide to Chinese Climate Policy 2019. 2019.

37 Koty, A. C. What is the China Standards 2035 Plan and How Will it Impact Emerging Industries? China Briefing. 2020.

38 China Dialogue. National carbon market expansion may be delayed to 2023. China Dialogue. 2022.

39 The assessment of GDP carbon intensity follows from that conducted in previous analysis but here we have updated data on historical carbon emissions (using the PRIMAP 2021 database), GDP (using Chinese Statistical Yearbook 2021), and GDP growth projections (from World Bank). The GDP growth rate from 2025-2030 is assumed to be 5% p.a.

40 If only covering CO₂, the target would lead to around 2050 MtCO₂e p.a. in 2060 (excluding LULUCF) or emissions reductions of around 75% below 2005 levels. If the target were to cover all GHG emissions, 2060 emissions would be around 600 MtCO₂e p.a. (excluding LULUCF), or around 92% below 2005 levels.3 The 0.1°C of additional warming by 2100 would be a result of the difference in cumulative emissions between an emissions pathway which follow a carbon neutrality target (leading to greater cumulative emissions) versus a GHG neutrality target (leading to less cumulative emissions).

41 Includes electricity and hydrogen. For it to be zero emissions, it would need to be produced out of renewable energies only.

Current policy projection

Under current policy projections China is set to meet its 2030 emissions peaking target.4 Nonetheless, current policies are not aligned with a 1.5°C compatible pathway.

Net zero target

China’s updated NDC also includes a long-term goal of carbon neutrality by 2060. This target likely covers CO₂ only, rather than all GHGs.

2050 Ambition

To be compatible with 1.5°C pathways, China’s CO₂ emissions, excluding LULUCF, need to be 91% below 2005 levels by 2050, or 549 MtCO₂/yr by 2050. GHG emissions, excluding LULUCF, would need to reach 1611 MtCO₂e/yr in 2050, a reduction of 79% below 2005 levels.


Decarbonisation of the power sector and industrial processes is critical in driving down GHG emissions, and aligning with a 1.5°C compatible pathway.



  • To achieve a 1.5°C compatible pathway, China would need to increase the share of renewable energy in its power generation mix from 27% in 2019 to 90% by 2030 and 94-100% in 2050.
  • Coal, which made up a 65% share of the power mix in 2019, would need to be phased out around 2030. Similarly, fossil gas, which made up 3% of the power mix in 2019, would need to be phased out between 2025 and 2031.3
  • A 1.5°C compatible pathway requires power emissions intensity to reach zero by 2039 at the latest, and go negative in 2050.
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  • As of 2019, the sector’s CO₂ emissions stood at 454 MtCO₂/yr, a 66% increase since 2000.
  • Emissions reduction in the sector would necessitate increased energy efficiency and electrification based on a renewable power supply. China recognises the importance of these actions in the country’s NDC.
  • To achieve 1.5°C compatibility, electricity’s share of buildings energy demand would need to more than double in 2030 (69-72%) compared to 2019 levels (30%).
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  • China’s industrial activity resulted in emissions of around 5.1 GtCO₂e/yr in 2019 (about 38% of the country’s total GHG emissions in that year, excluding LULUCF).
  • A 1.5°C compatible pathway for China’s industrial sector would see energy-related emissions, which were 3.1 GtCO₂/yr in 2019, decrease 71-78% by 2030 and reach full decarbonisation between 2040 and 2050.
  • Industry emissions reductions could be driven by increased sectoral electrification and the introduction of hydrogen as a feedstock or energy carrier. Electricity’s share of industrial energy use would reach 72% by 2050.
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  • Energy-related emissions in China’s transport sector were 901 MtCO₂/yr in 2019.
  • For China, a 1.5°C compatible transport sector would require an emissions reduction of 58-61% below 2019 levels by 2030, and reaching zero emissions by around 2050.
  • These reductions could be achieved by increasing electrification of the sector to 41-84% by 2050. Hydrogen could contribute another 2-8% by 2030, and 15-24% by 2050.
  • EV sales will go a long way to address emissions reductions in the transport sector. Modal shift, from private to public transport for passengers, and from road to rail for freight, will also be required.
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