Record clean energy growth puts China on path to emission peak

Written by Jeppe W

Dec.01 - 2023 1:15 PM CET


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China, the world's largest carbon emitter, is on the brink of a significant environmental milestone. According to a recent analysis for Carbon Brief, the country's carbon emissions are expected to peak this year and enter a phase of structural decline from 2024 onwards.

This shift is attributed to a record increase in clean energy investments, marking a pivotal moment in global efforts to combat climate change.

After the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in January 2023, China experienced a rebound in fossil fuel demand. However, this surge coincided with an unprecedented expansion in low-carbon energy sources, surpassing the government's targets and projections.

By September, China had already achieved its annual solar and wind installation goals, with the market share of electric vehicles exceeding the 20% target set for 2025.

Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and the author of the report, highlighted the remarkable growth in solar power.

China added 210 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity in 2023, doubling the total solar capacity of the United States and quadrupling its own additions from 2020. The country also installed 70GW of wind power - surpassing the entire power generation capacity of the UK - and is on track to add significant hydro and nuclear power capacities.

This boom in renewable energy is expected to counterbalance the surge in new coal plants across China. The expansion rate of low-carbon energy is now sufficient to not only meet but exceed the annual increase in China's electricity demand.

This trend suggests that China's electricity generation from fossil fuels is entering a period of structural decline, despite the ongoing construction and permitting of new coal plants.

China's commitment to peak its coal power capacity at 1,370GW by 2030 implies an immediate halt to new coal power permits or an accelerated decommissioning of existing and planned coal plants.

These developments align with global forecasts by energy experts, indicating that emissions from global electricity generation could peak this year, followed by a peak in all energy emissions from 2024.

A recent report by climate thinktank Ember suggests that the rapid growth of renewables is approaching the pace needed to triple global capacity by the end of the decade, aligning with climate targets. Furthermore, the International Energy Agency predicts that emissions from all energy sources could peak in 2025, marking a historic turning point in the energy industry.

China's clean energy surge signifies a major step towards reducing global carbon emissions and combating climate change, offering a blueprint for other nations to follow.