Energizing carbon emission goals creatively
Aided by foreign firms, industry strengthens China's efforts for clean, safe climate
Carbon emissions are essentially an energy issue－that insight from Olivier Blum, chief strategy and sustainability officer of French multinational Schneider Electric SA, encapsulates industry's considered and creative response to China's declared twin pursuits of peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.
Besides Schneider Electric, German industrial giant Robert Bosch GmbH, Swiss industrial conglomerate ABB Group and French tiremaker Michelin Group are among the big-ticket foreign corporate names driving radical change in the way businesses in China align with the nation's commitment to tackle climate change.
Digital solutions, green electricity, energy efficiency, new carbon management technologies, strengthened innovation, reduced use of water and energy, waste reduction, and even business diversification are among the host of strategies and measures that Chinese and foreign corporates are embracing and employing to bolster China's carbon goals.
And they are doing so without entertaining any second thoughts on the level of investments required nor with an eye on potential monetary returns on such investments.
For instance, Schneider Electric has 23 plants in China. The task of turning them all into green factories would require tons of cash. But Schneider has pledged it will get the job done, no matter what, said Blum.
For, China's carbon neutrality commitment has already brought positive impacts on various aspects in both China and the rest of the world, he said.
The country's twin carbon goals have pushed both Chinese and foreign companies, including Schneider, to accelerate their pace of adopting more digital solutions and green electricity.
For instance, much of Schneider's power in China is already generated by wind turbines and solar panels.
Dealing with carbon emissions requires imaginative solutions, he said. Digital technology needs to be used throughout the whole life cycle of energy to improve energy efficiency, especially in high-emission industries like power generation, power transmission and distribution, manufacturing, construction, steel and petrochemicals.
Schneider has been able to convert 13 of its 23 manufacturing facilities in China into green factories already, and has received recognition of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
There was a time when only 2 percent of its operations were powered by renewable electricity. Now, the figure has surged to as high as 80 percent. The company's next target is to achieve 90 percent soon, Blum said.
Schneider, he said, draws encouragement from China, an important contributor to efforts to make countries adopt the Paris Agreement and an active participant in its implementation. The nation has rolled out a series of policies to tackle climate change since September last year.
According to the country's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), the energy consumption per unit of GDP and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 13.5 percent and 18 percent, respectively, during the period.
China also plans to expand forest coverage to 24.1 percent of China's total land area over the next five years.
By 2030, China aims to lower its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by over 65 percent from the 2005 level and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25 percent from an estimated 15.8 percent at the end of 2020.
Jing Chunmei, a researcher at the Beijing-based China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said the government is determined to expand the use of green energy and bring down carbon emissions to net zero.
To realize the twin goals, what will be required is the development of new technologies to capture and store emissions. That will also help strike a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon.
International advisory company Brunswick Group released a study after the annual two sessions of the country's top legislature and political advisory body, saying that to increase reliance on low-carbon alternatives, China will also make a major push to develop new energy sources.
This will boost the use of wind and solar power, speed up the construction of hydropower plants in the southwestern part of the country, and promote the construction of nuclear power plants along the eastern coast.
The Brunswick study also said that China is likely to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to 20 percent by 2025.
Many global companies operating in China have taken the 2060 carbon neutrality goals as an opportunity to promote low-carbon technology transformation.
That is because when technology companies strive for carbon neutrality, they will help businesses first save on energy and reduce emissions themselves. But more importantly, this will provide the icing on the clean climate cake by encouraging companies from all sectors to strengthen innovation as well.
It should not come as a surprise therefore that Schneider has unveiled a new plan to speed up execution of a long-standing strategy to assist its customers and business partners in achieving their own sustainability objectives in China.
Like Schneider, Robert Bosch GmbH has set for itself clear sustainability targets in a plan entitled "New Dimensions－Sustainability 2025".
The plan focuses on six mega trends, including climate, energy, water and urbanization, to help protect the environment and improve people's lives.
Bosch's proposal for the carbon-neutral target reflects its confidence that China will continue to play an important role in climate action, said Chen Yudong, president for China operations at Bosch.
The company, he said, has invested 250 million yuan ($38.3 million) in environment protection to save water and energy, reduce waste and carbon emissions in China over the past few years.
Compared to 2011, Bosch's relative CO2 emissions from production activities in 2020 have been reduced by 52 percent year-on-year globally.
"We will contribute to China's green growth by sharing the technologies and experiences from more than 1,000 energy-efficiency projects and provide an advisory service to our Chinese partners in the future," Chen said.
He also said China's goals for 2030 and 2060 will force the automobile consumption patterns and industrial structures in China to transform to electric mode from the policy level.
To seize such development opportunities, Bosch will provide diversified solutions from micro-hybrid to pure electric, and offer a comprehensive product portfolio for hybrid and electric vehicles, including motors, electric bridges, onboard charging and distribution units to the China market.
Hydrogen fuel cells are also one of the important new energy technologies that Bosch has distributed in China, Chen said.
With China still experiencing industrialization and urbanization, and holding high expectations of economic growth, the nation will face far greater pressures and challenges than developed countries, experts said.
"The low-carbon commitment requires China to make the transition from reaching its carbon peak to realizing carbon neutrality within 30 years, compared with the 60 years taken by most developed countries," said Zhao Ying, a researcher at the Beijing-based Institute of Industrial Economics, which is affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Concurred Denis Depoux, global managing director at Roland Berger."We expect a more precise agenda for the execution of this pledge in the coming years, while the 14th Five-Year Plan already has set a slightly more ambitious energy intensity reduction objective."
China's pledge will play a major role, domestically and internationally, in innovation to meet the objectives, Depoux said, noting this will in turn push State-owned enterprises and private companies, as well as multinationals, to not only abide by the zero-emissions target but actually innovate to claim leadership in emissions reduction technologies and services.
With China further pushing production efficiency of its manufacturing sector, ABB Group plans to seize more market share, given that demand for smart urban infrastructure and digital electrical solutions will continue to rise during the 14th Five-Year Plan period.
"Industrial energy efficiency, more than any other challenge, has the single greatest capacity for combating the climate emergency. It is fundamentally the world's invisible climate solution," said Morten Wierod, president of ABB Motion, a subsidiary of ABB Group specializing in motors, drives, traction converters, generators and mechanical power transmission products.
As the government reported that over 462,000 charging pillars were constructed for electric cars in China last year, considerable steps have already been taken to support the uptake of electric vehicles and renewable energy sources, he said.
ABB's fast-charging solutions have been deployed in more than 30 cities across China, supporting the country in building a future-oriented and sustainable transportation system.
It has also delivered electric, digital and connected solutions to the local cruise market and strong experience to support the China cruise market's demands, said Wierod.
ABB has set an ambitious target of helping customers, especially in its key markets, including Europe and China, to reduce their annual CO2 emissions by more than 100 megatons by 2030 worldwide. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 30 million combustion cars.
For its part, tiremaker Michelin Group, which is also well known for its "stars" awarded to high-end, high-turnover restaurants and their chefs, is promoting sustainability-related concepts not only in manufacturing but in services.
The company unveiled the Michelin Green Star in its Guide Beijing 2021 for the first time in China late last year. It aims to highlight exemplary establishments at the forefront of a more sustainable approach to gastronomy.
In February, the French firm announced that it would achieve 100 percent sustainability of tire production materials in 2050, including the use of renewable, recyclable and bio-sourced materials.
Kamran Vossoughi, president and CEO of Michelin China, said:"From the main business of tires, we are gradually moving toward connected services and solutions, high-tech materials, hydrogen mobility, and customer experience business.
"We are also embracing digitalization to cope with the ever-changing market and seize more opportunities."