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Dialogue with Professor Jin Zhijun: A Future Driven of Carbon Neutrality by Technology

MAY . 20 2021
Peking University, May 20, 2021: With the “Two Sessions” coming to an end, “Peak carbon dioxide emissions” and “Carbon Neutrality” became two hot phrases widely discussed in society after their first admission into China’s government work report. In early September 22, 2020, President Xi announced that China would witness carbon dioxide emissions reach a peak before 2030 and therefore should strive to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 at the general debate of the 75th UN General Assembly. Given this opportunity, Beida News talked with Jin Zhijun, professor of PKU’s School of Geoscience, dean of Institute of Energy, academician of the Chinese Academy of Science, to discuss the present situation and future of carbon neutrality in China.

Carbon Neutrality – Actions and Responsibilities of China
Prof. Jin pointed out that “Peak carbon dioxide emissions” and “Carbon Neutrality” precisely meant “peak carbon dioxide emissions followed by decline” and “zero net carbon dioxide emissions”, respectively. Large amount of studies indicated that the emitted carbon dioxide over the past 100 years has led to the rise of temperature, the melting of ice in the Antarctic and Arctic Pole; as a result we saw rising sea levels threatening several inhabited island countries, for example Maldives and Palau, as well as low-altitude regions in maritime countries. “China, with the largest carbon dioxide emissions in the world, accounts for more than 20% of the world consumption. However, the per capita consumption of China is less than half that of the United States.” As suggested by Prof. Jin, “China’s announcement for carbon neutrality has great significance to the world, since it shows not only the direct embodiment of a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind but the actions carried out by a responsible key player in the global environment.”
Critical Path – Technology Driven with Aid of Government and Market
The goal of carbon neutrality was clear, but the available path was still ambiguous. Noted by Prof. Jin, the starting points included three aspects: technological development, market participation and government supervision, but the most critical path was the relevant technical progress.
Firstly, the principle contradiction lied in emission-reduction by industrial structure adjustment. The excessive production capacity and energy consumption among the steel, cement, construction and transport industry should be adjusted to fit in with the transition of energy structure from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels. By enforcing market-oriented policy including carbon tax and carbon trade, market players would then be motivated to engage in carbon neutrality. With the increasing worldwide emphasis on carbon neutrality, carbon emissions rights might become tangible assets matched with sovereign currency, which may severely affect national wealth. Secondly, the supervision and promotion of government could help the carbon market get off the ground. The government should also take the responsibility of natural protection, which would balance the scale of neutrality by improving of the natural capture rate of carbon dioxide.
Last but not the least, technology was crucial. On the basis of CCS (Carbon capture, storage), Chinese scholars further proposed CCUS (Carbon capture, usage and storage). This proposal helped the development of direct and indirect technology which could revolutionize the utilization of fossil energy and carbon dioxide, as well as converting the byproducts and end products of energy consumption into sustainable resources. For example, the most advanced solar power was an established example that costs less than natural gas and proven to be more environmentally friendly. Prof. Jin said, “By combining solar power with tiny plants of natural gas, we can achieve cheap energy and stable power grid simultaneously. It’s the basic frame for centralized plus distributed power supply.”
Prof. Jin said, “Energy fuels the economic society, so the pursuit for carbon neutrality should take energy security, economic society development and public acceptance into consideration.” The policy of carbon neutrality should be enforced in developed regions in China, where the cost of reformation can be covered by local government finance. The theoretical prediction models to optimize the multiple factors were exploited in practice by Prof. Jin’s group, by which the feasible path towards the future of carbon neutrality could be clarified gradually.
Public Participatory – Start from the Trivial
“The achievement of the goal requires everyone’s participation”, said by Prof. Jin, “because the energy consumption per unit GDP for China is twice the global average and three times that of United States.” The initial step was green travelling behavior including the choice of public transport system and the marketing of new energy vehicles, while the energy saving policies should also include long-term advocacy. Prof. Jin noted, “We need to incorporate carbon neutrality into the Ecological Civilization of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and become a part of mainstream culture.” Besides, estimated by experts, tens of billions of accumulative financing must be fund-raised by public investment, without which the burden was unaffordable merely by government revenue.
When it came to aspirations for PKU’s students, Prof. Jin advised, “I hope that PKUers are willing to support carbon neutrality by carrying out energy-saving and environment-protection actions.” Prof. Jin hoped that more and more students could devote themselves to the energy industry and work towards the future where clean and smart energy systems take up the majority. Prof. Jin also attached importance to information technology represented by big data and AI, as their impact on synergism was substantial. “Increasing efficiency by 20% equals to 20% reduction of carbon emissions approximately.” Proposed by Prof. Jin, more efforts should be devoted to the applications of AI into energy economics research.
Voices from PKU – Dayspring from founding Institute of Carbon Neutrality
In March 29, 2021, Peking University established Institute of Carbon Neutrality, the first research institute among Chinese universities to focus on carbon neutrality. Since its formation, the institute has held several academic seminars cooperated with PKU’s Guanghua School of Management and College of Engineering.
As a response to the question of how to issue the voice of PKU on the topic of carbon neutrality, Prof. Jin said, “Problem analysis, model setup, scheme validation and path determination – By rigorous scientific argumentation, Institute of Carbon Neutrality will make its unique contributions to the advancement of China’s road to achieving carbon neutrality.” Prof. Jin also called for more young scholars to join these great and glorious undertakings.
Reported by: Fu Jiaqi
Edited by: Rose Li