China Briefing 7 March: ‘Two sessions’ readout; BYD’s EV megaships; Power upgrade 


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China Briefing handpicks and explains the most important climate and energy stories from China over the past fortnight. Subscribe for free here.

New plan to upgrade China’s power system

GRID IMPROVEMENTS: The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and National Energy Administration (NEA), China’s top economic planner and top energy regulator, respectively, released guidance on improving the grid’s ability to meet electricity demand as more renewable projects come online. The guidance outlines key tasks for local governments and grid companies to strengthen peaking capacity, increase energy storage capacity and develop smart grids, reported energy news outlet

PEAKING CAPACITY: In an interview with BJX News, a “responsible” official at the NDRC said that the key goals of the regulation included “commissioning more than 80 gigawatts (GW) of pumped storage power stations, seeing demand-side response capacity exceed 5% of the maximum load and reaching a proportion of more than 20% of new energy power generation in the national energy mix” by 2027. It also requires all coal-fired plants to be retrofitted to become more flexible, if it is possible for them to do so, the outlet added. As part of this, regions that have relatively high proportions of renewable energy, but insufficient peaking capacity, must ensure their coal-fired power plants can run at “below 30% of the[ir] rated load”, David Fishman, senior manager at the Lantau Group, said on Twitter. He added that regions that have reliable access to affordable sources of gas are also permitted to develop gas-fired peaking plants and that nuclear peaking should be explored.

ENERGY STORAGE: In comments attributed to an “official”, China Energy Net said that priorities in developing energy storage capacity included: developing pumped storage, constructing “new energy storage” – predominantly batteries – on the power supply side and developing storage on the user side; optimising the scale and layout of new energy storage for power transmission and distribution; and developing new technologies.

BYD car carriers arrive in Europe

ARRIVAL: BYD’s first roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) ship arrived in Germany, bringing a challenge “directly to Europe’s auto-making powerhouse”, Agence France-Presse reported. German newspaper Die Welt also covered the news, saying that “around 3,000 [electric vehicles (EVs) were] brought ashore”, adding that the “200-metre-long ship had previously docked in…the Netherlands”. 

PUSHING PRICES DOWN: A comment piece in the Daily Mail argued that the RoRo ship’s arrival heralded Europe being “deluged with Chinese EVs”, which will “act to depress inflation rates that are already falling” as China “export[s]” its own deflation to the rest of the world. Robinson Meyer, the executive editor of Heatmap, wrote in the New York Times: “Chinese carmakers are the first real competition that the global car industry has faced in decades, and American companies must be exposed to some of that threat, for their own good.” Elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal reported that increasingly affordable BYD EVs will be a “nightmare for foreign competitors – not just for their EV businesses but their legacy gas-powered ones, too”. 

UK INVESTIGATION?: According to Politico, the UK government is thinking about “whether to investigate Chinese state subsidies for EV makers”, although plans are currently “nascent”. The Daily Telegraph also said that the UK is considering placing tariffs on the “flood” of cheap Chinese EVs. Meanwhile, the US commerce department will “investigate potential data and cybersecurity risks posed by Chinese electric vehicles”, Bloomberg reported, with one official saying the Biden administration “isn’t yet calling for a ban of Chinese EVs but could impose some limitations on imports of the vehicles or parts”. The EU, meanwhile, has required China-made EVs to be “registered with customs authorities…as the bloc looks to apply retroactive tariffs” in the face of subsidies given to the industry, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post

China issues ‘first’ climate change law 

CLIMATE LAW: China’s Ministry of Environment and Ecology (MEE) recently held a press briefing on new regulations governing the country’s national emissions trading scheme (ETS), which are effective from 1 May. The law will ensure “quality emission data” and will have “legal teeth to deter illegal activities” that will help impose a fine of not less than five times but not more than 10 times any illegal income, MEE vice minister Zhao Yingmin (who also led the China delegation to COP28) told the press conference, according to a transcript published by China Electric Power News. Once the regulation comes into force, no new local carbon markets will be established and industries that are currently participating in the national scheme will be prevented from joining local-level emission trading pilots, which will help avoid “duplication” of data, said BJX News. Meanwhile, Zhao also raised objections to the EU’s carbon border tax because it unilaterally imposes “additional costs” on poor countries, Bloomberg said, adding that he called collaborating on a global carbon market a “better option”.

CHINA’S FIRST: The carbon trading regulations are China’s “first dedicated legislation” to be issued to address climate change, according to the state-supporting newspaper Global Times. It said they are the first “administrative regulation” to outline the carbon emission trading system, providing a “legal basis for the operation and management of the national carbon market”. The regulation is a “landmark” decision that is of “great significance to the realisation of China’s dual carbon goals”, said Zhao in a recording broadcasted by state news agency Xinhua. Industry outlet China Energy Net reported that the emissions trading system was previously governed by a series of lower-tier “departmental regulations”. It quoted an academic at Renmin University of China saying that the new regulations lay out comparatively “clearer management requirements”.

Emissions targets for manufacturing and mining

‘GREEN’ MANUFACTURING: In early March, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released the “guiding opinions on accelerating green development of the manufacturing industry”, which plan, among other things, to increase the share of “green” factories in the manufacturing sector to 40% of the sector’s total output by 2030, reported Xinhua. The opinions also set a target that by 2030, the “green and low-carbon transformation” of the industry will “produce a marked effect”, and “the proportion of green and low-carbon energy use [in the sector] will be significantly increased”, while, by 2035, the industry’s “carbon emissions will decrease steadily after reaching the peak [in 2030]” and “green development will become the universal form of new industrialisation”, Jiemian reported. Xin Guobin, MIIT vice minister, said that “energy-saving supervision” of more than 4,300 industrial enterprises will be carried out and energy-saving diagnostic services will be provided to more than 1,800 enterprises to meet the target, reported China News.

EMISSIONS STRATEGY: The opinions aim to address “bottlenecks and shortcomings” that restrict decarbonisation of traditional as well as emerging industries, such as information technology, data centres, chips and other technology-related sectors, reported BJX News. China will develop a “market-oriented green and low-carbon computing power application system” to meet the 2030 green manufacturing target, it added. The aerospace sector will “actively develop” so-called “new energy” aircraft, such as electric aircraft, while the maritime industry will accelerate the development of ships powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), methanol, ammonia or batteries, and launch a pilot project for ship electrification, reported Jiemian.

INDUSTRY CATALOGUE: At the same time, China’s NDRC and other departments issued the 2024 edition of a catalogue defining industries that are considered to be part of China’s energy transition, reported The outlet noted that the category “clean and low-carbon transition of traditional energy [industries]” included “clean coal production”, “clean and highly-efficient use of coal” and extraction and use of coalbed methane. Another article said that, in addition to energy production, services such as demand-side management and “green” power trading were also included in the catalogue.

What does the 2024 government ‘work report’ say about climate and energy?

In this issue, Carbon Brief analyses what the government “work report”, delivered at the “two sessions”, means for climate and energy policy in 2024.

Why is the lianghui important?

The lianghui – widely known as the “two sessions” – is the annual gathering of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, for several days of parliamentary meetings.

Its centrepiece is the “government work report”, a speech traditionally delivered by the premier that underscores successes from the previous year and outlines priorities for the year ahead. 

It is also traditionally when China announces its GDP growth target. Alongside the work report, China also releases a report by its top economic planner, the NDRC, and its central and local budget report.

Does the work report include hard climate targets?

One of the few quantitative climate targets China set in the report is to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 2.5% over the coming year, a target that Bloomberg described as “modest”. The target was lower than analysts’ expectations of 4%, the outlet added.

Previous analysis for Carbon Brief found that China would need to reduce its energy intensity by 6% per year to meet its 2025 target of a 13.5% drop in energy intensity, with energy demand falling in absolute terms.

However, the NDRC report said that the 2.5% target reflects the fact that energy consumption will increase this year. Instead, it said that the energy intensity target will now “exclud[e] non-fossil fuels and coal, petroleum and natural gas consumed as raw materials”.

This shift means the government has “redefined” the energy intensity target to mean “fossil fuel intensity”, Lauri Myllyvirta, senior research fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), told Carbon Brief, making the 2025 target “very soft-ball”.

Myllyvirta stated that the report does not address the bigger problem – accelerating growth in energy-intensive sectors to support China’s economy during the Covid-19 pandemic

By his estimate, if China’s energy intensity – under the new calculation – does fall by 2.5%, this would translate to “at best” a 3% fall in carbon intensity, which is “very far from the 7% [fall] they need”, per his recent Carbon Brief analysis, to meet the 2025 target of an 18% reduction in carbon intensity.

Is the report ambitious on climate?

The work report makes no significant changes to China’s direction of travel on climate and energy policy. Instead, the language around these policies continued to balance tensions inherent to China’s energy transition. 

The report signalled that China will continue to manage the relative prioritisation of “both high-quality development and greater security”. It also asked policymakers to “actively” and “prudently” make efforts to reach China’s dual carbon goals. 

Efforts will be made to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, as well as to develop large-scale wind and solar bases and distributed energy, it said. But, at the same time, the report also doubled down on the commitment to fossil fuels

Coal will continue to play a “crucial role in ensuring energy supply”, it said, while China increases development of oil, gas and strategic minerals in the name of security.

“You could almost see the government struggling with the language,” Li Shuo, director of ASPI’s China climate hub, told Carbon Brief. He added that there “seems to be an increasing lack of consistency” both in the report and in other policy papers. 

He attributed this to the increasingly challenging situation facing the government and competing interests within the political system.

“We’re getting very concerned” about China’s ability to meet its wider climate goals, Li said. Based on the recent surge in energy consumption, “it is going to be very challenging for China to hit [its energy and carbon intensity] targets. They certainly will not be able to meet those targets if they stick to…2.5% [annual] energy intensity reduction.”

Will China continue to boost ‘green’ innovation?

The government work report trumpeted China’s clean-energy development in 2023, including growing installations of renewable energy, its contributions to the global energy transition and the 30% growth in exports of the “new three” industries.

(Previous analysis for Carbon Brief found that clean technologies – particularly the “new three” – were the top driver of China’s economic growth last year.)

Going forward, China will “consolidate and enhance [its] leading position” in industries such as electric vehicles and hydrogen, and “create new ways of storing energy”, the report said. 

It also pledged to “implement…‘small and beautiful’ projects” in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partner countries.

“I [can’t] think of a[nother] country where the economic agenda and the climate agenda are so aligned,” Li tells Carbon Brief. “The challenge for China is when and how and how fast will the positive[s]” lead to the “phasing down or the phasing out of the dirtier [aspects].”

What next?

The government work report merely sets the framework for the year. Ministries and local governments must now develop concrete policies to meet its goals.

Whether and how China progresses towards its dual carbon goals depends on how they interpret and implement the report’s signals.

The maximum amount of solar capacity, in gigawatts (GW), that China could add in 2024, according to a presentation by China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA) honorary chairman Wang Bohua. (Total solar capacity in the EU stood at 200GW at the end of 2022.)

CRITICAL MINERALS: Trivium China analysed which critical minerals – important for the manufacturing of many clean-energy technologies – are at greater risk of having export controls placed on them by China.

EXIT INTERVIEW: Outgoing US climate envoy John Kerry told the New Yorker that “China is teeing up to be in a position to surprise the world” with its ability to meet its climate commitments.

ENVIRONMENTAL MULTILATERALISM: China Daily interviewed Gu Shuzhong, a senior research fellow from the Institute of Resource and Environmental Policy under the Chinese government thinktank the Development Research Center, about a new environmental policy group and US-China climate cooperation.

MEGABASES: On the Switched On podcast, BloombergNEF analysts Tianyi Zhao and Xiangyu Chen explained the role of renewable energy “megabases” in China’s clean energy transition. 

Gender disparities in summer outdoor heat risk across China: findings from a national county-level assessment during 1991-2020

Science of the Total Environment

New research found that “differences in thermal comfort, outdoor activity duration and social vulnerability” meant that women faced a higher heat risk than men in China between 1991 and 2020. This was less prevalent in southern regions than the “severe” disparity in northern regions, it said. The study added that male overheating risk was “mainly attributed to population clustering associated with prolonged outdoor activity time and skewed social resource allocation”, whereas female overheating risk was “primarily affected by social inequalities”. 

No more coal abroad! Unpacking the drivers of China’s green shift in overseas energy finance

Energy Research and Social Science

Through a new analytical framework as well as elite interviews, policy documents and media reports, a study determined that the decision by China’s leadership to stop funding overseas coal power projects was due to “the combined outcome of three mechanisms: issue linkages in intergovernmental bargaining, lobbying of transnational alliances and influence of domestic interest groups seeking policy change”.

Using machine learning to analyse the changes in extreme precipitation in Southern China

Atmospheric Research

Researchers applied a “convolutional neural network” – a type of machine learning algorithm – to correctly identify 96% of extreme precipitation events in southern China. A certain circulation pattern identified by the algorithm to be an “extreme precipitation circulation pattern”, was found to be linked to extreme precipitation events, as a decline in the frequency of the circulation pattern indicated a decrease in extreme precipitation events.

China Briefing is compiled by Anika Patel and edited by Wanyuan Song and Simon Evans. Please send tips and feedback to [email protected]

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