IE University was honored to host Hu Min, executive director of the Chinese Institute for Global Decarbonization Progress, at a recent event. The resulting insights show the tremendous progress being made by the economic powerhouse, but that there are still challenges ahead.

If humanity is to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and keep global warming below the 1.5°C mark, the UN says that we must cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The world’s largest economies will play a crucial role in hitting that target. At the latest installment of IE University’s “One Month One Region” seminar series, the spotlight fell on China. The event “Greening the Dragon: China’s Decarbonization Journey” highlighted the country’s progress toward carbon neutrality and its sustained, self-driven interest in climate development policy.

Ambitious targets

China has set itself ambitious targets for its decarbonization strategy, with the ultimate goal being carbon neutrality by 2060. But this is difficult in an economy that has seen significant growth in the 27 years since the Kyoto Protocol, where large portions of the population still live in poverty—and where 10 out of 30 provinces emit more carbon emissions than entire countries like the UK or Germany, for example.

These were just some of the topics of discussion during the event, led by the main speaker Hu Min, the executive director of the Institute for Global Decarbonization Progress (iGDP). In her speech, Hu Min stressed China’s position as a global leader in the drive for decarbonization, but contrasted its desire for economic expansion with the realities of decoupling emissions from that growth. Some 82% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, come from coal power plants which in turn provide electricity for homes, factories and more. 

China’s approach to tackling these challenges is informed by its ‘1+N’ climate policy framework, first announced in 2021 to emphasize energy conservation and transition to renewable sources.

Progress made, challenges remain

Electric vehicles and innovative battery technologies are at the forefront of the Chinese renewables market. As Hu Min told the audience, global initiatives can foster decarbonization collaboration around the world. That’s why China’s role on the international stage includes climate diplomacy with the so-called Global South, eliciting commitments to halt new coal-fired power projects in developing countries.

On the other side of the coin, the European Union has encouraged China to double its energy efficiency and triple its renewable energy capacity by 2030. In a country where striking the balance between energy security and a just and fair green transition for all its diverse regions will be challenging, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Posing the tough questions

Borja Santos is an expert on public policy and international development, as well as the associate vice-dean of IE School of Politics, Economics & Global Affairs. He said that the discourse at the event raised some pertinent questions that must be answered if China—and the world—are to meet those ambitious targets.

How, he asked, will China’s policies shape global economic growth and supply chains? This is a particularly pertinent query for a country with such concentrated manufacturing power as to influence geopolitical and economic uncertainty. And can China’s ambitions align with its need to ensure energy security and its commitments to meet international climate pledges?

Hu Min provided insights from the sharp end of such a crucial issue that were both enlightening and thought-provoking. It will be interesting to follow China’s progress towards carbon neutrality and its success in overcoming the unique challenges of greening the dragon.