Has a Chinese Mastered the Green Transition?

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According to analytical agencies, China is the first major global power to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions — six years ahead of the planned schedule.

In 2020, China pledged to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and then begin reducing them. However, it is possible that the peak CO2 emissions were surpassed last year, and their volume is now declining. This is evidenced by reports from international monitoring and analytical agencies. They cite the accelerated development of new energy sources as the main reason for China’s decarbonization. This analysis is based on official data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, National Energy Administration, China Electricity Council, and the General Administration of Customs.

A new report from the international agency Carbon Brief, based on official and commercial data, confirms that China’s emissions might have peaked in 2023. According to a report published by the Australian think tank Climate Energy Finance, if the growth rates of renewable energy sources are maintained, China «will be able to achieve its climate goals of overcoming the peak carbon emissions earlier than planned». These conclusions are also confirmed by analysts from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Experts note that China is currently increasing its renewable energy capacity at an astonishing pace, far outstripping the rates of all other countries on the planet.

First and foremost, China is rapidly developing solar energy. In just the first five months of 2024, the country installed 80 GW of new solar panels. To understand the scale, let’s compare the figures. All operational power plants in Russia have a capacity of about 250 GW, in the USA — 1200 GW, while in China, only from January to May, 80 GW of solar generation was installed, bringing the total to 690 GW. According to recent data, in 2023, China installed a record 293 GW of wind and solar energy, increasing their combined capacity to 1050 GW. The total capacity of all power plants in China reached 2920 GW. No country in the world has such a reserve of energy capacity. At the same time, solar and wind generation accounted for 36 percent of the total energy balance. Meanwhile, the share of thermal power plants (TPPs) fell below 50 percent for the first time.

Experts note that the main factor in reducing CO2 emissions in March 2024 was the expansion of solar and wind generation, which met 90% of the electricity demand growth. Objective economic factors, such as reduced construction and production volumes of cement and steel, also influence this process.

China’s economic policy, which now focuses on «new productive forces» and moves away from economic growth through traditional heavy industry, contributes to the green transition. This term refers to high-tech production and R&D, which are less energy-intensive than China’s traditional industrial sectors. Consequently, the growth of wind and solar energy has led to a reduction in the share of fossil fuels in China’s electricity production to 63.6% in March 2024, compared to 67.4% a year earlier, despite a significant increase in demand.

According to Carbon Brief’s analysis, the so-called «new trio» — solar energy, batteries, and electric vehicles — play a decisive role in China’s green energy transition. This «new trio» contributed about 40 percent of China’s GDP growth of 5.2% last year. According to the International Energy Agency, in the first quarter of 2024, China sold nearly 1.9 million electric vehicles–more than the rest of the world combined. In total, since 2018, China has sold 18 million electric vehicles. As a result, every tenth vehicle on Chinese roads is now electric.

Moreover, China is promoting the green transition worldwide. It installs solar panels not only domestically but also actively exports them abroad. Chinese firms control over 80% of all solar panel production chains. Companies like Sungrow, Longi, and Jinko Solar are global leaders in solar generation. Last year alone, Jinko Solar produced nearly 79 GW of solar panels.

In 2023, China exported 4.9 million cars, of which 1.2 million were electric vehicles. Even active resistance to the expansion of Chinese new energy sources by the West cannot stop this process. For example, the recent decision by the USA to impose a 100 percent tariff on the import of electric vehicles from China and a similar EU measure of 37 percent. Experts estimate this could reduce Chinese electric vehicle exports by about 110,000 cars, or 8%. Some of the electric vehicles previously supplied to the USA and Europe will be redirected to Southeast Asia and Latin America. However, China will subsequently expand its presence in these markets by localizing production. Chinese auto giant BYD has already started building a car factory in Hungary. Chery is acquiring a car plant in Barcelona. SAIC also intends to relocate production to Europe. In Uzbekistan, production of Chinese electric vehicles has already begun, and they will soon be on the markets. These cars will no longer be considered made in China. Chinese companies are also eyeing the nearby neighbors of the United States, where they can set up production for supply across the Americas, including the USA (circumventing customs duties).

While the collective West has slowed its green transition and hinders the spread of Chinese new energy technologies, China appears to have outperformed all countries and regions in limiting CO2 emissions and dominates the clean energy and transport sectors globally.