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Global business: Tsinghua partnership illustrates China's commitment to global climate leadership

China's goal is to to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. (Photo from Wix library)


Global Business Journalism reporter

France and China have their differences on matters both economic and diplomatic. But when it comes to climate change, the two nations’ collaboration in pursuit of sustainable energy solutions has been a model for international cooperation.

In the wake of discussions between the French and Chinese presidents on carbon neutrality, China’s prestigious Tsinghua University Carbon Neutrality Center has joined forces with France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Center (known by its French acronym CEA) to address the pressing challenges of climate change and a shared goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions. International partnerships like these are a major part of China’s ambitious climate agenda, designed to propel the world’s second largest economy into the lead in addressing the world’s biggest scientific challenge.

At the forefront of China's climate agenda is the aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, a substantial commitment considering the country's continued heavy reliance on coal and its world-leading carbon emissions.

The path to achieving this goal involves a comprehensive transition to renewable energy sources. This means shifting away from traditional fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, and instead harnessing energy from sources that are naturally replenished, such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass.

Implementing effective climate policies is another crucial aspect of this path. Climate policies refer to a set of regulations, incentives, and measures put in place by governments and international bodies to encourage and enforce actions that mitigate climate change.

China’s Climate Change Goals

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), with 12.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2022 and a 26% share of global GHG emissions, according to the European Parliamentary Research Service.

Over the course of the last century, the CO2 emissions of the Middle Kingdom have experienced a relentless ascent, surging to an astonishing 8 tons per capita, according to data from the Global Carbon Project, an international scientific initiative that aims to provide comprehensive information on carbon dioxide emissions and the associated factors influencing climate change.

GBJ graphic by Raphael Perri

Despite these alarming figures, the Chinese government has made a resolute commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, positioning China at the forefront of global climate action – at least in its promised action. As a powerful friend of many developing countries, China is in a position to influence the policy agenda in some of the world’s most populous nations.

Through leading by example and supporting sustainable practices, such as renewable energy investments, technology transfer, and international cooperation, China can inspire and encourage other nations to take ambitious climate action, ultimately accelerating progress on a global scale.

This ambitious objective holds tremendous real significance, considering China's current heavy reliance on coal and its consequential carbon emissions, which have contributed to its status as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The nation’s top leader has put his global prestige on the line by pledging a firm timetable for progress.

“China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emission before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” China President Xi Jinping pledged two years ago during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

While China grapples with the challenge of transitioning away from coal, the emphasis on climate by Beijing's top-level officials has spurred a policy push to support businesses focused on renewable energy and carbon emissions reduction.

“China’s already a leader in so many parts of the decarbonization effort, especially in renewable energy,” explained Norman Waite, energy finance analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), in a CNBC interview.

Transition to Renewable Energy

China's transition to renewable energy sources stands as a pivotal component of its strategy to achieve carbon neutrality. The nation has undertaken significant efforts to develop and harness the potential of solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.

Rachael Fleming, a consultant at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), explains “In recent years, China has made remarkable progress in the deployment of renewable energy sources, particularly in solar and wind power. These efforts have positioned China as a global leader in renewable energy.”

GBJ graphic by Raphael Perri

In 2022, China was recognized by the International Energy Agency (IAE) as the undisputable leader in renewable energy expansion, adding new projects to the grid almost as fast as the rest of the world combined, according to data collected by the agency.

China builds around 75 gigawatts of wind and more than 100 gigawatts of solar energy annually. This starkly contrasts with the combined efforts of Europe and North America, which together managed to produce less than 90 gigawatts of renewable energy in 2022, even though that year was a record-breaker for them. According to Masdar, a leading developer and operator of utility-scale renewable energy projects, the creation of 100 gigawatts a year of renewables by 2030 would be a significant achievement.

On its current trajectory, Fleming reports that Beijing is on track to reach 1,800 gigawatts of total renewable energy by 2030, exceeding by more than 50% President Xi’s ambitious goal to reach 1,200 gigawatts of total renewables by the end of the decade.

“China’s commitment and actions speak for themselves,” Fleming said. “It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ China will transition to a future powered by clean and renewable energy.”

Climate Policies and Challenges

These momentous changes have been primarily driven by China's new climate policies, which have laid the groundwork for accelerated renewable energy deployment. The Chinese government's steadfast commitment to addressing climate change and achieving carbon neutrality has prompted a paradigm shift, propelling the nation towards a future built on sustainable energy sources.

One notable policy implemented by China is the establishment of a nationwide carbon market. Launched in 2021, the carbon market places a price on carbon emissions, incentivizing industries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

“By creating a market-based mechanism, China aims to encourage businesses to adopt cleaner technologies, improve energy efficiency, and invest in low-carbon practices,” explained Jili Wei, the director of the international cooperation of Tsinghua University Institute for Carbon Neutrality (ICON).

Additionally, China has implemented regulations and standards to promote energy conservation and emissions reductions.

The Energy Conservation Law, introduced in 1997 and revised in 2020, mandates energy-saving measures and sets energy consumption targets for industries and buildings.

The implementation of strict emission standards for key industries, such as power generation, transportation, and manufacturing, also plays a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions.

China has released ambitious standards for reduced carbon emissions in energy generation. (Photo from Wix library)

However, transitioning to a low-carbon economy presents challenges that must be overcome. Economic and social considerations pose a significant hurdle in achieving emissions reductions. The coal industry holds economic significance, and balancing the need to reduce carbon emissions with economic and societal stability is a complex task.

Technological limitations also come into play in China’s transition.

“While China has made significant progress in developing renewable energy technologies, there is still a need for further advancements in energy storage and grid integration to support a reliable and resilient low-carbon energy system,” emphasizes Wei.

China’s Role in International Climate Cooperation

To tackle these pressing issues, the Chinese government recognizes the need for collaboration and international cooperation in addressing climate change.

“We should expand and deepen Sino-foreign joint scientific research on global issues such as climate change and energy security,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping during a conference on carbon neutrality last year, underscoring the nation's commitment to engaging with the global community in finding collective solutions to climate-related issues.

This resolution for collaboration was reinforced during the recent visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Beijing. Both presidents reiterated the importance of cooperation in confronting the shared challenges of global warming and protecting biodiversity.

Leading the way, the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Center (CEA) of France and the Tsinghua University Institute for Carbon Neutrality (ICON) in China inaugurated the first Sino-French collaboration initiative on climate change and energy transition.

This pioneering endeavor aims to advance shared knowledge and innovative solutions in the fields of renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency, and sustainable urban development. It will serve as a hub for international researchers, fostering dialogue and collaboration toward achieving a carbon-neutral future.

Building upon the discussions between President presidents Macron and Xi, this collaboration marks a significant step forward in the pursuit of sustainable solutions. The CEA and ICON joined forces in a series of meetings and knowledge-sharing sessions on June 16.

“We believe that such endeavors are essential to learn from each other, and reach our respective goals in terms of carbon neutrality in the years to come,” said Tony D’Aletto, nuclear advisor and representative of the CEA.

Building on the research and achievements of both France and China, this collaboration signifies a significant step towards achieving their respective goals of carbon neutrality. Recognizing the importance of international cooperation, China is actively seeking further collaborations to ensure the success of its carbon neutrality efforts.

A Collaborative Path Toward a Sustainable Future

China has made significant strides in its quest for climate change mitigation and carbon neutrality. As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has recognized the urgent need to address climate change and has set ambitious goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Its transition to renewable energy sources has been a cornerstone of its strategy. The country has made remarkable progress in deploying renewable energy, particularly in solar and wind power, and has become a global leader in renewable energy expansion.

China's commitment to achieving carbon neutrality and its transition to renewable energy sources have been supported by a range of climate policies. It created incentives for industries to adopt cleaner technologies, improve energy efficiency, and invest in low-carbon practices.

The Middle Kingdom also recognizes the importance of international collaboration. By engaging in joint scientific research and forging partnerships with other countries, China aims to share knowledge, learn from global experiences, and collectively address the challenges of climate change.

These collaborations are seen as the next step in China's journey toward a sustainable future and will play a crucial role in shaping the success of its carbon neutrality efforts.

As China embarks on this transformative journey, the success of its efforts remains uncertain. The ability to effectively leverage its assets and navigate the complexities of the transition will determine whether China can emerge as a shining example for other nations to follow.

“The years to come are a turning point for China,” explains Fleming. “We will see if China can effectively deliver on its commitments and inspire global counterparts to do the same.”

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