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China Briefing, 3 June 2021: New climate ‘leaders group’; ‘Record-breaking’ electricity consumption; ‘Artificial sun’

Welcome to Carbon Brief’s China weekly digest. 
We handpick and explain the most important climate and energy stories from China over the past seven days.

This is an online version of Carbon Brief’s weekly China Briefing email newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

Snapshot

China has formed a high-level “leaders group” to help it deliver its climate goals. According to state media, the group, which is chaired by vice premier Han Zheng, had its first plenary meeting in Beijing last week. Today, Carbon Brief published an article explaining why the group is important to China meeting its “carbon neutrality” goal.

Regions in southern China had to ration their electricity to deal with “record-breaking” power consumption caused by factors including hot weather and a post-pandemic economic rebound, official reports said. The electricity shortage has hit one province, which is known for its manufacturing industry and nicknamed the “world’s factory”, particularly bad.

Elsewhere, Chinese scientists have announced that one of their devices has set a new world record after maintaining 120m Celcius for 101 seconds. The machine, described as the “artificial sun”, is part of China’s quest to develop a fusion reactor to provide “almost infinite clean energy”, according to state media.

Key Developments

High-level ‘leaders group’ to help China become ‘carbon neutral’

WHAT: The Chinese central government has established a dedicated “leaders group” to ensure that the country will peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and reach “carbon neutrality” before 2060, reported state broadcaster CCTV. A short news clip shows vice premier Han giving instructions to dozens of officials at the group’s first plenary meeting.

WHEN: The plenary meeting took place last Wednesday in Beijing. The following day, CCTV and state news agency Xinhua released reports about the conference and the group for the first time.

WHO: CCTV reported that the meeting was hosted by vice premier Han, a member of China’s top decision-making organ, which is known as the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China. Four other senior officials were present, the channel added. They were vice premier Liu He, State Council member Wang Yong, foreign minister Wang Yi and director of the state macroeconomic agency, He Lifeng. Financial outlet Yicai reported that the meeting’s audience included the heads of “almost all key ministries and committees”. It named some of them in a report.

HOW: Wu Changhua, a policy analyst specialising in China’s environment development, tells Carbon Brief: “A national leaders’ group is a commonly seen way of organisation to lead and coordinate focal areas that are of national strategic significance.” According to People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, a typical leaders group has one or multiple leaders who manage a “leading department” and several “participating departments”. The “leading department” oversees an “administrative organ” tasked to implement decisions and strategies.

WHY IT MATTERS: The founding of the group means China’s emission targets are now in their “political deployment” stage, says Prof Yuan Jiahai from North China Electric Power University. Prof Yuan tells Carbon Brief that the move shows China’s determination to tackle climate change. It also shows that the government has realised that the objective is a “systematic, complicated project that will involve whole society and need efficient cross-departmental cooperation”, Yuan adds. Carbon Brief’s report explains how the group can help China fulfil its climate pledges.

Southern China rations electricity due to surging consumption

WHAT: China Southern Power Grid (CSPG), a state-owned power grid operator, had to ration electricity due to record-breaking electricity consumption in some southern Chinese provinces, according to South China Morning Post. A heatwave and “brisk” economic activities were among the contributing factors behind the surge in demand, the report said.

WHEN: The news was first reported by CCTV, China’s official channel, on Sunday. The outlet said that CSPG had seen soaring electricity demand in the previous weeks. In particular, the peak demand on the entire network surpassed 200 gigawatts (GW) on 21 May, setting “a historical new high”, CCTV said.

WHERE: CCTV said five provinces and regions had been hit by spiking power consumption, but did not mention all of their names. According to a government post, CSPG supplies electricity to the provinces of Guangdong, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hainan and the autonomous region of Guangxi Zhuang. CCTV said at least two of them, Guangdong and Yunnan, had imposed power use restrictions on some businesses.

HOW: A Xinhua report attributed the rising electricity demand to “lasting high temperatures” and economic recovery. It said Guangdong, which is dubbed the “world’s factory”, had seen temperatures higher than 35C since the end of April. A recent Carbon Brief report focused on the implications of China’s robust post-pandemic growth. Our guest contributor, Lauri Myllyvirta, found that the rebound had led China’s carbon emissions to grow at the fastest rate for more than a decade.

WHY IT MATTERS: According to China’s 21st Century Business Herald, this round of electricity shortages has hit not only southern provinces, but also some provinces in the east, such as Shandong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. In a report published yesterday, the website said that the situation could “continue to worsen”. In a follow-up article, the outlet stated that it would be “a challenge” for China to rely on “clean energy” while still facing “a strong growth” in electricity demand – especially because investments in coal power had been restricted. Prof Yuan previously told Carbon Brief that China must phase out coal power under its “carbon neutrality” target, but the move would pose “huge challenges” to the electricity system, particularly its reliability.

Other news

‘ARTIFICIAL SUN’: Chinese scientists have set a new world record after one of their experiments achieved a plasma temperature of 120mC – around eight times as hot as the core of the real sun – for 101 seconds, reported Xinhua. The device is called the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST). It is designed to replicate and then control the nuclear fusion process occurring naturally in the sun to provide almost infinite clean energy, wrote the state-run Global Times. Both outlets called the experiment last Friday “a key step” toward a test run of the reactor. The device also reached 160mC for 20 seconds during the experiment.

‘DUAL-HIGH’ PROJECTS: China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) has escalated its crackdown on “dual-high” projects – those with “high” energy consumption and “high” emissions. Xinhua reported that the MEE issued a new instruction on Monday, urging all levels of environmental authorities to tighten their evaluation of relevant industries and “strictly control” the developmental scale of “dual-high” sectors.

CAPACITY CUT: China plans to “gradually phase out” 236m tonnes of steel capacity during the 14th five-year plan period, which covers 2021 to 2025, according to the China Iron and Steel Association. He Wenbo, head of the association, said last Thursday that a further 221m of steel capacity would be “upgraded” – which often means using climate-friendly technologies and processes – during the same period. Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A has explained the implication of the 14th five-year plan on China’s climate actions.

CARBON TRACKING: China’s Jiangsu province has launched a “precise carbon emission measurement system” to track the electricity industry’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, reported Xinhua last Friday. The system can conduct “real-time, continuous and accurate” monitoring of the emissions, the outlet added. On Monday, Shanghai’s Pudong New Area launched a similar “smart” carbon platform, reported SHINE.

NATIONAL ETS: China’s national emission trading scheme (ETS) will initially limit its daily price swings to 10%, reported Reuters, citing a report in China’s Securities Times. An executive told the Securities Times that limits for block deals – high-volume transactions usually done outside of the open market – would initially be set at 30% of price moves. He added that the caps could be adjusted according to “market risks”. The national ETS is set to start trading by the end of June. Look out in the coming weeks for Carbon Brief’s in-depth analysis of the programme.

STEEL HUB: Officials in China’s largest steel-producing city, Tangshan, may ease the city’s steel output limits in the second half of this year to boost supply in response to a price surge of the commodity, Caixin reported on Tuesday. Restrictions were imposed on Tangshan – a city some 110 miles east of Beijing which produces 13.5% of China’s crude steel production – in March in a bid to reduce pollution. Relevant departments must continue supervising steel mills “during the relaxation of the production limits”, said National Business Daily today.

Extra reading

New science

Drivers of summer extreme precipitation events over East China
Geophysical Research Letters

A new study has found that most extreme precipitation events over eastern China during the summer months are driven by two major weather systems: the eastern Asian summer monsoon and landfalling tropical cyclones. The researchers used a circulation clustering method to assess the synoptic patterns associated with those extreme weather events in the region between 1961 and 2018. The paper says that most sub-regions in eastern China have seen “increasing trends of extreme rainfall events” over the past six decades with comparable contributions from the two main factors.

A framework for national scenarios with varying emission reductions
Nature Climate Change

New research has proposed a “systematic and standardised, yet flexible” scenario framework to evaluate different nations’ long-term energy and climate mitigation pathways under varying emission goals for 2050. The paper applied the framework to six Asian countries, including China, to identify the individual challenges facing those economies regarding energy transition and investment needs under comparable scenarios. The authors also discussed the framework’s rationale, advantages and possible disadvantages.

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