Asia resists calls for net-zero emissions

Emissions targets have taken centre stage at oil and gas conferences. But Asia has different short-term priorities despite the potential damage climate change may cause in the developing world.

Unless Asia radically changes its energy mix, rampant demand growth will offset the world’s efforts to tackle climate change, delegates at IP Week heard yesterday. “Asia is the 800lb gorilla in the room,” says Peter Godfrey, managing director of Energy Institute Asia Pacific. “Economic growth is massive, more than 50pc of energy demand [growth]. Unless we solve the situation in Asia, we will not solve climate change at all.”

Yet, the immediate priorities for policymakers in Asia are different from those in OECD nations. Asian governments are understandably focused on local problems, such as reducing local air pollution, nationwide access to electricity and clean cooking. To meet these ambitions, many Asian nations still see a future for so-called clean coal— technologically treated to lower its pollution profile—in sharp contrast to the West.

“Expecting net-zero for everyone by 2025 will not happen” Srivastava, IIASA

Coal will decline in China’s energy mix but still contribute c.33pc in 2050, according to Chinese oil company CNPC. “Coal will remain an important part of China’s energy mix,” concurs Michal Meidan, director of the China programme at thinktank Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. CNPC expects end-use energy consumption to be 38.1pc electrified by 2050 but with coal providing a significant proportion of the energy demand, which is growing particularly strongly among urban populations.
The coal industry still receives strong support from both the Chinese government—as it is a consistent source of tax revenue and jobs—as well as the largely state-owned financial sector. “Asia does not feel the same regulatory and financial pressures on coal as the West. Coal mining is still finding funding from Chinese banks,” adds Meidan.
Similarly, in India coal will still make up c.40pc of its energy mix in 2050, says Leena Srivastava, deputy director general for science at the research institute IIASA. She adds that the country’s population will increase by a staggering 500mn people by 2040, further contributing towards the spiralling energy demand growth of Asia.

Making headway

China has pivoted towards a lower carbon future and is already a leading player in the renewables sector. “In 2019, the share of clean energy reached 28pc of the energy mix,” says Wang Qi, minister counsellor at the Chinese embassy in the UK. “China has 30pc of the world’s total clean energy and half of the world’s electric vehicles.”

The country also has the world’s largest ‘clean’ coal power generator, capable of producing 800mn KW. The China Electricity Council say 98pc of the country’s coal-fired power plants have achieved ultra-low emissions and desulphurisation. Qi adds that China considers addressing climate change to be on par with economic progress. But efforts cannot be achieved without multilateralism and collaboration. “The road to tackle climate change will be long and arduous,” he says. “But China is committed and stands ready to work with all walks of life to build a clean and beautiful world.”