The writer is chair of the Energy Transitions Commission
Xi Jinping’s announcement last week that China would achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 was greeted with surprise. Few outside China expected this hugely important commitment so soon. But it reflects three motivations: awareness in China that climate change will cause it huge harm; a desire to be a responsible global leader; and growing confidence that technological progress can make net-zero emissions attainable without interrupting China’s path to prosperity.
That confidence is justified by dramatic global changes over the past 10 years. Solar electricity costs have fallen by 90 per cent, wind by 60 per cent and lithium-ion battery costs by 87 per cent. Initial public subsidies have created such strong economies of scale and steep learning curves that the need for subsidies is diminishing fast. Over the next decade, the cost of producing green hydrogen via electrolysis will also fall significantly.
As a result, countries can now build zero-carbon electricity systems with total costs no higher than for fossil fuel-based systems. They should electrify as much of the economy as possible. In passenger road transport, that will be straightforward and cheap. In more challenging sectors, such as steel and cement, aviation…