In order for the scenario to work, ambitious climate policies and stronger government support are urgently needed.
Beijing, one of the world’s megacities, can reach zero CO2 emissions by 2050, according to new research in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.
Beijing is famous for its successful measures to combat air pollution, pull off innovative sustainable districts, construct zero-carbon buildings and initiate plans to switch all of its petrol-powered taxis to EVs by 2020. Now it looks like these efforts may actually pay off in the long term.
The research, which was based on an Integrated Energy and Environment Policy Assessment Model, used Beijing as a case study regarding a zero carbon scenario in line with the Paris targets. The authors suggest that after hitting the peak with 95 million tons of CO2 per year before 2020, Beijing is fully capable of achieving the goal by rapid reduction to 72 million tons of CO2 until 2030, followed by a slower but steady reduction to zero over the next two decades. The experts say this is both affordable and economically feasible.
The key technological advances required to reach the goal should include a fast decarbonization of transport, zero-emissions space heating, and negative emissions technologies. The last one involves complex societal dilemmas around its application. A continued technological dependence on fossil fuels and decreasing motivation for a transition to sustainable energy could both jeopardize it.
Beijing remains a huge polluter going through rapid economic growth. In order for the scenario to work, ambitious climate policies and stronger support from the municipal government are urgently needed. The city leads on the list of most researched cities in regards to climate action and has pledged to peak its emissions by 2020. Yet Beijing has not adopted any long-term climate strategy or plan so far.
And while China remains among the frontrunners in climate action, it continues to massively expand on coal, preparing for a future of extremely high energy demands. Thus, it’s hard to predict whether it will be able to balance economic ambitions and massively reduced emissions without exporting those emissions to less developed countries, which would harm the planet as a whole.
Despite those uncertain trends, making its capital carbon neutral by 2050 would be a huge step forward for China and an example for other cities to follow.