4 Lessons on Increasing Transport Mitigation Ambition in China
Work by NDC Transport Initiative for Asia partners and other organizations working in China has shed light on effective multilateral collaboration to raise China’s ambition for transport decarbonization. Photo by GuoZhongHua/Shutterstock

Abating China’s transport sector greenhouse gas emissions, which accounted for about 11% of the world’s transport emissions in 2018, is key to meeting both national and global climate goals.

In 2021, China updated its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), outlining ambitious goals to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

The NDC Transport Initiative for Asia (NDC-TIA), a Sino-German cooperation project implemented by WRI and other partners, is working to support these goals and raise ambition specifically for zero-emission transport across Asia by facilitating multilateral cooperation.

The NDC-TIA is commissioned by the International Climate Initiative of Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection and jointly implemented with China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Through stakeholder engagement, research and knowledge exchange, the project has supported Chinese policymakers in developing effective strategies on the control of both transport sector greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollutants. The NDC-TIA has also helped develop the transport elements of China’s 1+N policy system, which sets out targets for meeting its carbon peaking and neutrality goals.

Based on interviews with NDC-TIA partners and other organizations working in China, namely the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, WRI China, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), Agora Verkehrswende, and the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport, four lessons have emerged on effective multilateral collaboration to advance China’s NDCs and raise ambition for transport decarbonization: 

1. Understand and Engage the Right Stakeholders

The NDC-TIA facilitates cross-agency multistakeholder platforms at the national and provincial levels to bring together public- and private-sector stakeholders. At the national level, this platform focuses on developing a regulatory framework for GHG and transport-related air pollutant emissions. At the provincial level, the platform works on a GHG emission peaking roadmap that aligns with China’s NDCs.

While it can be challenging to bring together government ministries with varying objectives and workstreams, the NDC-TIA has successfully engaged actors at different levels by tailoring offerings to meet ministry needs.

At the national level for instance, the NDC-TIA works with the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the Ministry of Transport to provide relevant information to these parties. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment is responsible for the emission co-reduction of GHG emissions and air pollutants. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which has authority over fuel efficiency regulations and mandates, focuses on decarbonization as a route to oil independence and finds information on the competitive advantages of zero-carbon transport most salient to their work. The Ministry of Transport oversees policies that dictate road access, tolls and transport organization, and finds analysis on multimodal strategies most relevant.

In Guangdong Province, NDC-TIA partners met with stakeholders across regional departments to better understand political dynamics and responsibilities of transport decarbonization. Based on these initial conversations, WRI China gradually reached out to actors that could help champion platform development.

Identifying the needs, motivations and constraints of each stakeholder within the platform helps the NDC-TIA build trust and add value to each stakeholder.

2. Transport Decarbonization Requires a Systemic Approach

While China’s 1+N carbon neutrality policy system aligns with its NDCs, there are gaps in integrating and aligning transport decarbonization goals with other sectors and ministerial structures as well as increasing ambition at the local level to reach national goals.

Recent scenario analysis led by WRI China found that in addition to vehicle electrification, structural changes like modal shifts and grid decarbonization will be critical to meeting China’s 2030 and 2060 goals. GIZ has emphasized the importance of harnessing the “Avoid-Shift-Improve” framework for transport sector decarbonization. The NDC-TIA’s Council Report also reflects the need to reallocate resources such as fossil fuel subsidies and to coordinate with the energy sector to sustainably integrate vehicle charging into the grid. Currently, high-level policies around electrification and resource allocation are still needed in the 1+N policy system framework. 

In addition to cross-sector coordination, the NDC-TIA’s work across ministries has highlighted the need to consider ministerial structure holistically. Currently, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) has authority over exhaust emission standards while the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has authority over fuel consumption standards. China’s emission regulatory system could be more effective if there were more coordinated efforts across ministries. For instance, given MIIT does not have compliance authority over vehicles already on the market, MIIT could share CO2 type approval data with MEE and allow MEE to verify vehicle performance during vehicle emission tests. Such cooperation would incentivize vehicle manufacturers to comply with the corresponding standards.

The NDC-TIA’s work has also revealed that though national will is strong, there are more barriers to transport decarbonization in China at the local level, primarily due to cost. Long-term engagement to gain local buy-in on decarbonization at the provincial and municipal levels and to establish policies that match regional needs and resource constraints is key to meeting the 2030 and 2060 goals.

3. Look for Underlying Data Gaps

China has enhanced its ambition in decarbonizing transport but lacks baseline data and clarity on specific decarbonization pathways. The NDC-TIA has worked to address this challenge by providing technical modeling and analysis support, identifying capacity gaps, and coordinating across national and provincial ministries to analyze China’s emissions and pollutant reduction trends. This analysis is critical to bridging the gap between national and provincial policy design and establishing an emission baseline to quantify how quickly low-carbon strategies will need to be adopted to meet the NDC goals.

The NDC-TIA is currently working with the Guangdong provincial government to model different emission accounting strategies to measure and track road transport emissions. Because not all provincial emissions can be abated by local government alone, linking policy tools and emission data availability will help guide realistic benchmarks going forward. A forthcoming WRI China working paper will document these findings.

4. Equitable Transport Access Requires Integrated Planning

Zero-carbon transport accessibility is a significant transport equity consideration in China. The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) prioritizes zero-emission passenger and freight transport. While transitioning away from internal combustion engines and cleaning the energy grid are critical, focusing on individual vehicles does not address income and access variability. Integrating aspects of transport equity and accessibility, such as providing more accessible, safe, and efficient public transport and active mobility options, will be critical moving forward. China has expanded public transport in many cities in the last 15 years and it will be important to continue finding ways to move people in efficient and accessible ways. More granular data collection and analysis of transport emission peaking, particularly with regard to how it affects particular demographics, is also critical. Currently, the NDC-TIA focuses on income variability across regions and transport accessibility for the elderly and those with disabilities and special needs. Improving transport equity will remain a priority in coming years.

China’s 1+N policy system is highly ambitious and requires collaboration across all levels of national and local government. Lessons from NDC-TIA’s work so far demonstrate that multi-stakeholder cooperation can most effectively support NDC progress when there is a strong shared understanding of the system and demand, strategic engagement with stakeholders, and integrated planning around transport decarbonization, electrification and equitable access.

Contributions provided by Lulu Xue (WRI China), Hui He (ICCT), Sebastian Ibold (GIZ), Urda Eichhorst (GIZ) and Angel Cortez (SLOCAT).

Maggie Dennis is a former Research Associate for the Business Center at World Resources Institute.

Yiqian Zhang is Research Associate for Global eMobility at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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