More effective models needed for goal of carbon neutrality

By DUAN HONGBO / 03-11-2022 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Hydropower generation is widely adopted around Dai Lake, Wuhu City, Anhui Province, which contributes to China’s goal of carbon neutrality.   Photo: Xiao Benxiang/CNS

China has set its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, which is an extension and enhancement of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) at the heart of the Paris Agreement. 

While responding to global concerns, China’s proposal of this goal will also bring a series of climate, environmental, and socio-economic benefits. Achieving carbon neutrality would mean unprecedented and profound systemic changes. Further analysis is needed to draft a blueprint by 2060, as we must understand the impact of the low-carbon transformation and what climate change may bring. 
Western experience in model developing 
Deveoped countries in the West have accumulated nearly 40 years of profound experience in developing models for climate change. Since the 1970s, Professor William Nordhaus of Yale University has worked on the first global system model—Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy (DICE), which won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics. Other well-known integrated assessment models include those developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan, and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and so forth. 
These models have received long-term financial support from their countries and have become powerful tools for formulating national climate policies. Relevant research based on these models has also become an important basis for assessment reports prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other international climate negotiations. 
Model construction in China 
 Unfortunately, there are few Chinese models seen in the systems currently agreed upon and adopted by IPCC reports.
In fact, Chinese scholars have been exploring the R&D of integrated evaluation models for many years and have laid solid foundations. For example, the Integrated Policy Assessment Model for China (IPAC model) developed by the Institute of Energy Studies at the National Development and Reform Commission has considerable influence in assessing China’s future path to a mid-term low-carbon transition. Teams from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences independently constructed an Energy-Economy-Environmental Model with Endogenous Technological Change by Employing Logistic Curves (E3METL) and Chinese Energy-Economy-Environmental Model with Endogenous Technological Change by Employing Logistic Curves (CE3METL) models and published important research results evaluating the Paris Agreement targets, which attracted wide attention. 
The Integrated Model of Energy, Environment and Economy for Sustainable Development (IMED) model, constructed by the Laboratory of Energy, Environmental Economics and Policy Studies at Peking University, evaluates the macroeconomic costs, and coordinated benefits of a green, low-carbon transformation on global, national, and provincial levels.
However, it must be pointed out that China’s self-developed integrated assessment models still face challenges. Due to obvious technical bottlenecks, the models’ scale is relatively small. Few models can evaluate climate policies that cover all regions across the globe and further propose long-term emission reduction plans based on these calculations. In addition, more stable funding support for research programs and professional talent pools are necessary. The cost curve of knowledge investment for constructing such models is very steep, which requires many years’ dedication from a talented team who are competent enough to carry out long-term, coherent scientific research. 
Duan Hongbo is an associate professor from the School of Economics and Management, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Edited by BAI LE