Decarbonizing China’s Road Transport Sector: Strategies Toward Carbon Neutrality
China’s road transport sector plays an important role in meeting carbon early peaking and carbon neutrality goals. This study examines how the sector might be decarbonized by modelling five scenarios using the LEAP model. It aims to inform China road transport sector’s emission reduction target, identification of cost-effective measures that deliver on the sectoral emission reduction targets, facilitation of low-carbon investments and identification of decarbonization measures with air pollution reduction co-benefits.
In the medium term, the peaking timeline for GHG emissions from China’s road transport sector would be during 2025-35 and that for petroleum demand would be during 2024-30 under all scenarios except Business as Usual. If the country’s stated policies are effectively implemented over time, China could peak road transport emissions before 2030 and petroleum consumption before 2027. The peaking timeline could be further advanced to 2025 for GHG emissions and 2024 for petroleum consumption by employing structural change measures.
Over the long term, with policy interventions, it would be possible to reduce road transport GHG emissions in 2060 by 50-95% from 2020’s level. To achieve the largest emission reduction potential of 95%, vehicle electrification, structural changes, fuel efficiency improvements, and power and hydrogen decarbonization are critical. Further, unlike GHG emissions, after the introduction of the China 6 emission standard, road transport’s air pollutant emissions would decouple from GHG emissions trajectories, showing a steady declining trend.
Reaching China’s carbon neutrality goal has more pronounced implications for freight transport than it does for passenger transport. To attain the carbon neutrality goal, road freight transport could need to reduce GHG emissions by a cumulative 19,367 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2eq) from 2020 to 2060 compared with the BAU scenario, over two times the cumulative emission reduction associated with road passenger transport. To unlock road freight’s decarbonization potential, China needs to make technology advances in long-haul heavy-duty trucks and refrigerated trucks, promote freight mode shifts to railways and waterways, and improve freight logistic efficiency. China also needs to significantly improve its freight statistical data collection system to support evidence-based policymaking in the above areas.
The modeling results also show that low-carbon investments amounting to CNY 39-83 trillion cumulatively are needed from 2020 to 2060 to decarbonize China’s road transport sector. The investment demand is the largest from now till 2035 and will steadily decline over time. Structural changes are the least-expensive measure among all the decarbonization measures because a smaller vehicle fleet size reduces needed investments in installed capacities for power and hydrogen generation and transmission as well as investments in vehicle acquisition and charging (and refueling) infrastructure expansion.
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