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Project Background

IEA data shows that global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. In 2021, global greenhouse gas emissions reached 40.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), surpassing the 2019 level and setting a new historical high. China ranked first in global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, accounting for 30%, and its cumulative emissions (since 1850) also rose to second globally. Greenhouse gases can linger in the atmosphere for thousands of years, causing long-lasting and profound effects on climate change. As a responsible major country, China must make significant efforts to reduce cumulative carbon emissions from now until the mid-century, peak greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible, strive to reduce the peak, and rapidly enter a downward trajectory to achieve net-zero emissions ahead of time. Substantially reducing cumulative carbon emissions will also enhance China’s voice and leverage in international climate negotiations.

Road transport is the primary source of emissions in the transportation sector, accounting for over 85% of total carbon emissions in China’s transportation sector. Guangdong Province, as the leading economic province in China, with the mega-cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and leveraging the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, has inherent advantages in policy implementation and innovation. It has the capability and foundation to explore and implement measures and supporting policy systems for national efforts in carbon peaking and carbon neutrality in the transportation sector. In 2021, Guangdong Province established the country’s first provincial-level Carbon Peaking and Carbon Neutrality Standardization Technical Committee. In 2022, it successively issued the “Implementation Opinions on Fully Implementing the New Development Concept and Promoting Carbon Peaking and Carbon Neutrality Work” and the “Guangdong Province Carbon Peaking Implementation Plan,” setting specific goals for the province’s dual-carbon work and advancing it into the comprehensive implementation stage.

On December 14th, the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation (iCET) released the research report on the “Guangdong Province Road Transport Net Zero Emission Roadmap” through an online meeting. The report focuses on Guangdong Province, using a “bottom-up” emission methodology to construct a long-term energy and carbon emission accounting model for the transportation sector. It analyzes the long-term emission reduction paths, effects, and impacts on the power grid of road transport in Guangdong Province under different scenarios. Based on this, the report formulates annual budget lists for road transport carbon emissions at the provincial and regional levels, ensuring that road transport carbon emissions peak as soon as possible and overall emissions are minimized. This research is the first phase of the “Guangdong Province and Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Road Transport Net Zero Carbon Emission Roadmap” project, jointly completed by the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation, the Guangzhou Institute of Energy Research, and the School of Intelligent Systems Engineering at Sun Yat-sen University/Guangdong Xucheng Technology Co., Ltd., and other expert teams.

The study further breaks down road transport in Guangdong Province into four sub-regions (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, other Pearl River Delta regions, and non-Pearl River Delta regions) and 13 vehicle categories. It introduces, for the first time, a roadmap for road transport net-zero emissions with 2060 and 2050 as time milestones, providing valuable references for emissions reduction in road transport in Guangdong Province.

For the First Time, Accounting for Regional and Vehicle Type Emission Data in Guangdong Province – This Data Forms the Basis for the Formulation of Road Transport Emission Reduction Strategies

The report reveals that, at present, the carbon emissions proportion of road transport is as follows: Guangzhou (15%), Shenzhen (20%), non-Pearl River Delta regions (23%), and other Pearl River Delta regions (41%). Analyzing emission trends, Shenzhen is expected to achieve the earliest peak in road transport emissions, followed by Guangzhou and other Pearl River Delta regions, with non-Pearl River Delta regions having the latest peak. The report suggests that the differing emission trends will determine regional differences in emission reduction strategy formulation. Shenzhen’s road transport emission reduction will lead the province and even the nation, potentially achieving carbon neutrality first. Guangzhou and other Pearl River Delta regions need to propose and implement more aggressive policy goals, while non-Pearl River Delta regions need to accelerate the promotion of low-emission and zero-emission vehicles to achieve an early emissions peak.

At the vehicle level, private passenger cars, urban logistics vehicles, semi-trailer trucks, and dump trucks have the highest emission proportions. However, under the baseline scenario (based on existing policy settings), due to the extensive promotion of new energy vehicles, carbon emissions from private passenger cars are expected to peak around 2025 and rapidly enter a downward trend. For vehicle categories such as urban logistics vehicles, semi-trailer trucks, and dump trucks, more active policy goals and supporting policies are needed, including the formulation of more ambitious industry development plans, targets for promoting new energy vehicles, significant improvement in vehicle efficiency, and accelerated restructuring of freight transport, to achieve an early peak and steady decline in carbon emissions.

The study also calculated for the first time the potential reduction in petroleum consumption and cumulative carbon emissions.

Research indicates that under the 2060 roadmap to net-zero emissions in road transport, from 2020 to 2060, petroleum consumption in Guangdong Province’s road transport is projected to decrease by nearly 300 million tons compared to the baseline scenario. Achieving the 2050 optimized net-zero emission roadmap could further reduce the total cumulative petroleum consumption by 440 million tons compared to the baseline scenario. If calculated based on a 70% petroleum import ratio, this would result in a cumulative reduction of 310 million tons of petroleum imports, saving foreign exchange equivalent to $155.5 billion USD (2021 prices).

The implementation of the 2060 net-zero emission roadmap could reduce carbon emissions from road transport in Guangdong Province by over 1 billion tons from 2020 to 2060 compared to the baseline scenario. Under the 2050 optimized net-zero emission roadmap, this figure increases to 1.5 billion tons. This implies that if the net-zero emission target for 2050 is achieved in Guangdong Province’s road transport alone, the cumulative reduction in carbon emissions from 2020 to 2060 would be equivalent to 12% of the national total carbon emissions in 2021, demonstrating significant emission reduction potential and making a positive contribution to China’s efforts to reduce cumulative carbon emissions.

Different emission reduction measures should be emphasized and applied at different times.

Research results show that the emission reduction potential generated by the promotion and application of new energy passenger vehicles will peak around 2035. The emission reduction potential of new energy commercial vehicles mainly occurs after 2040, becoming the main driving force behind achieving carbon neutrality in the later stages of road transport. In the process of achieving carbon neutrality (from the baseline scenario to the 2050 optimized net-zero emission scenario), the promotion and application of new energy commercial vehicles contribute 64% of the cumulative emission reductions, while new energy passenger vehicles contribute 27%. Changes in travel patterns and freight structure adjustments contribute 3% and 5% of the cumulative emission reductions, respectively. Changes in travel patterns and freight structure adjustments have significant emission reduction potential before 2040, but as the proportion of new energy vehicles in the fleet increases substantially, the emission reduction effects of these two measures gradually decline in the later stages.

Road transport carbon budgets were proposed for the first time, and annual carbon budgets were established for each region.

A high-quality greenhouse gas emissions database is the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of emission reduction efforts. This quantification work requires a fair, scientific, and operationally strong mechanism to be realized. Internationally, the IPCC introduced the concept of “carbon budget,” which refers to the maximum allowable total global carbon emissions under the premise of avoiding the dangerous impacts of climate change. This budget consists of a series of non-binding numerical values proposed on a global scale, without distinguishing between regions and industries, making it challenging to serve as a guiding document for emission reduction strategies in specific industries.

The study proposed, for the first time, the concept of annual carbon budgets for road transport, which is a more meaningful expectation based on a “bottom-up” model analysis. Therefore, it is more in line with the industry’s development trend numerically and has more specificity and reference value. Based on the results of the 2060 and 2050 net-zero emission roadmaps, the study calculated for the first time quantified emission reduction targets and carbon budgets for road transport in Guangdong Province and each region. The carbon budget for road transport in each region will provide guiding directions for local governments to achieve carbon neutrality goals and quantitative indicators for supervising and regulating the progress of carbon neutrality efforts at all levels of government. With the Chinese government requiring industries and governments at all levels to strengthen the preparation of carbon emission inventories, this work will play a positive role in promoting these efforts.

Road Transport Net Zero, Guangdong Can Go Further

The experience of developed countries indicates that the process of reducing emissions in the transportation sector progresses slower compared to other sectors, with most developed regions globally targeting 2050 as the carbon neutrality milestone. Guangdong Province possesses unique advantages in various aspects such as economy, policies, and industries, and is fully capable of leading the nation. The study suggests that Guangdong Province, by implementing the 2050 optimized net-zero emission roadmap, can achieve multiple benefits. Compared to achieving the goal of road transport net-zero emissions by 2060, this would reduce the carbon emission peak by 5.4 million tons, decrease petroleum consumption by 139 million tons from 2020 to 2060, reduce foreign exchange expenditures by $69.7 billion, and cumulatively decrease carbon emissions by 460 million tons.

To achieve this goal, based on the 2060 net-zero emission roadmap, Guangdong Province needs to reduce the vehicle stock by 16%, decrease private passenger car usage intensity (average annual driving mileage) by one-fourth, and simultaneously lower the proportion of road freight by 40%. In these areas, Guangdong Province has already introduced relevant policies and planning goals. For example, in green travel, Guangdong Province advocates actively adopting the “135” travel mode, which involves walking within 1 kilometer, cycling within 3 kilometers, and choosing public transportation within 5 kilometers. Large cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen have achieved green travel share rates of 84.5% and 77.42%, respectively (in 2021). In terms of freight, Guangdong Province has also issued the “Implementation Plan for Promoting the Development of Multimodal Transport, Optimizing and Adjusting Transport Structure in Guangdong Province,” proposing the construction of a comprehensive multimodal transport network and vigorous development of multimodal transport systems such as rail-water, road-rail, and road-water.

Simultaneously, there should be a more proactive approach to the promotion and application of new energy vehicles. In this regard, Guangdong Province also has outstanding advantages. Shenzhen and Guangzhou lead the country in the penetration rate of new energy vehicles, with Shenzhen being the world’s first city to achieve comprehensive electrification in various scenarios such as public transportation, taxis, and ride-hailing services. Beneficial attempts and model explorations have also been made in the electrification of special scenarios like sanitation trucks. Additionally, in 2021, the Guangdong Urban Cluster was approved as a demonstration application city cluster for fuel cell vehicles, and Foshan is at the forefront of hydrogen industry development nationwide.

In terms of government decision-making, it is recommended to establish emission reduction quantification goals based on the principle of technological neutrality, and to establish city-based carbon budget credit mechanisms and inter-city carbon budget trading mechanisms. On the social and market fronts, recommendations include further increasing the utilization rate of private charging stations, enhancing residents’ awareness of green travel, and researching and formulating incentives for residents’ green travel (such as carbon inclusivity and establishing individual carbon accounts). Through these policies and measures, the growth rate of road transport vehicles in Guangdong Province is expected to slow down, vehicles will tend to be cleaner, and it will contribute to the timely peaking and subsequent continuous decline of carbon emissions.

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