China’s climate and energy policy after the Two Sessions: More wait and see

China’s all important “Two Sessions” wrapped up in Beijing on 13 March 2023, setting out the key macroeconomic priorities for the year and suggesting a cautious growth outlook. While Beijing set to deliver its “around 5%” GDP growth target—leading to a recovery in energy consumption—the nature nature of the economic rebound matters: Whether it is more consumer-led, as Q1 2023 data seem to suggest, or infrastructure-heavy will determine oil product use and the strength of gas consumption.

The Two Sessions also emphasized coal and energy security, using new language about coal being the mainstay of the country’s energy system, a departure from previous policy documents that discussed coal’s gradual transition to a supplementary energy source. Despite this, clean energy additions are unlikely to slow so China’s 2030 and 2060 carbon peaking and neutrality goals remain within reach. But the policy stance on coal will limit the space for raising China’s climate ambitions or accelerating the low-carbon transition in industry. Meanwhile, the continued investment in coal infrastructure will make meeting the low-carbon objectives more challenging while raising the absolute quantity of carbon dioxide emissions over time.

In its Two Sessions Work Reports and in subsequent guidance for 2023, the government emphasized energy security and called for an all-of-the above approach to energy supplies, with the exception of gas, where Beijing is limiting coal-to-gas switching for now. And just as the tension between coal and renewables was striking, so is the tension between the role of the State and markets: While markets were discussed at length, market reforms are still on the backburner as the government maintains a strong role in energy sector management.

By: Michal Meidan , Philip Andrews-Speed , Anders Hove , Yan Qin

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