Opportunities and pathways to decarbonize China’s transportation sector during the fourteenth Five-Year Plan period and beyond


China has pledged to reach a peak in the nation’s economy-wide CO2 emissions by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. This study uses cutting-edge emission modeling tools to assess the potential for reducing climate pollutants from advanced policy packages compared with currently adopted policies for China’s transportation sector. The study provides China with a technical foundation for consideration of climate goals during the 14th Five-Year-Plan (FYP) period (2021-2025) and over the long term.

We found that transportation-related climate pollutant emissions in China would grow rapidly without further mitigation actions. Policies under two analyses—the business-as-usual Adopted Policies scenario and the Low Ambition scenario—are expected to yield only limited climate benefits in the near-term (the next five to ten years) but are insufficient to reduce or even stabilize climate pollutant emissions in the longer term.

China will need a set of world-class policy measures to achieve continuous, long-term climate pollutant reduction benefits. Such policy leadership, as modeled in the High Ambition scenario, has the potential to reduce climate pollutant emissions, in terms of CO2-equivalent, by more than 10% at the end of the 14th FYP compared with the 2020 level, and by 70-80% in 2050 if a similar rate of emissions reduction were continued after 2035. In addition, the policies will also bring immense air quality co-benefits.

Based on these findings, we recommend that China:

  1. Take a holistic approach in combating climate change and introduce strategies and policies that reduce CO2 and non-CO2 emissions.
  2. Establish near-term and mid-term GHG or climate pollutant emission targets for transportation based on the long-term goals required to bring economy-wide carbon emissions to net zero in 2060. In particular, we recommend that China consider an ambitious climate pollutant reduction target for the transportation sector in 2050, such as 70%-80% compared with 2020 level, which is deemed feasible in our analysis. By comparison, the EU Green Deal has a non-binding goal of reducing transport sector emissions by 90% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.
  3. Formulate comprehensive policies to achieve these transport sector emission reductions, including but not limited to direct GHG emission standards for on-road, marine, and non-road mobile sources; zero-emission vehicle requirements for various transportation segments and fleets (e.g., public transport, government fleets, taxis and rentals, logistics vehicles, port drayage trucks etc.); establishment of ultra-low and zero-emission zones; bans on, or emission standards for, motor vehicle refrigerants with high global warming potentials; optimized transport system structures; and promotion of low-carbon multi-modal transportation.

This report was updated on 11/22/2021.