China's five-year green development plan for industrial sector lacks road map, analysts warn

climate change, pollutants, carbon neutral by 2060

China’s latest five-year development plan targeting the green development of its carbon-intensive industrial sector is a step in the right direction to tackle climate change, but the lack of specific road maps to reach these goals are a cause for worry, analysts said.

The plan released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last Friday seeks to lower carbon intensity and pollutants and promote emerging green industries up to 2025.

The MIIT has also set several targets for the industrial sector, including cutting carbon emissions by 18 per cent and energy intensity by 13.5 per cent, reducing the emissions intensity of major pollutants by 10 per cent and achieving 11 trillion yuan (US$1.7 trillion) of economic output by the environmental sector by 2025.

“It [the development plan] has reaffirmed the few principles in eco-friendly industrial development and economic growth in China,” said Li Hongmei, a senior analyst at consultancy Mysteel Global.

The MIIT’s plan also called for increasing the proportion of clean energy in the overall industrial energy consumption structure, including replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen in the steel, cement and chemical industries. It encouraged factories and industrial estates to develop rooftop photovoltaics and decentralised wind power systems, without setting specific targets or standards for these policies.

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and coal consumer, aims to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060. Plans have been laid out by many energy-intensive industries, including steel, chemicals, building materials, and non-ferrous metals, to achieve these goals.

China’s aluminium sector aims to reach peak carbon emissions by 2025 and reduce emissions from that peak by 40 per cent in 2040, according to a draft action plan released by the industry in April.

The steel sector, which accounts for around 15 to 20 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions annually, could also reach peak emissions in 2025 and then reduce it by 30 per cent by 2030, according to a forecast by the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute in March.

Analysts, however, pointed out that the MIIT’s five-year plan does not include sector-specific road maps for peaking emissions and more specific targets for controlling energy- and emissions-intensive projects, or closing old capacity.

“The plan does not pin down any targets for emissions peaking years or levels for the industrial sector as a whole or specific industries,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at non-profit think tank Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

“This is a theme in recent policymaking: listing lots of policies and ambitions, but setting few measurable targets set to meet, or only setting targets that are easy to achieve.

“The hope and the expectation is that the targets will be exceeded, but there is, of course, no guarantee of this.”

Other experts pointed to the lack of specific road maps and indicators, saying that these could also baffle companies and hinder emissions reduction.

“We need quantitative indicators, data and measurable instructions of the corresponding processes [in the industrial sector], said Chen Sheng, who heads the government-backed China Real Estate Data Academy.

“Clear guidelines to the extent of which materials, methods of production, operation, and maintenance are the best low-carbon options are needed.”

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