Green Giants? China’s National Oil Companies Prepare for the Energy Transition

Lead PI: Erica Downs

Unit Affiliation: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP)

September 2021 - Ongoing
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: On September 22, 2020, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, made a surprise announcement about China’s climate ambitions during remarks to the United Nations General Assembly. He stated that China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), aims to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. Xi also said that China’s GHG emissions would peak before 2030, a slight revision to China’s pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement to peak emissions around 2030.

China’s new climate targets spurred the country’s three major national oil companies (NOCs)—China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec Group), and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)—to strengthen their climate ambitions. PetroChina (the flagship subsidiary of CNPC), which had already set a goal of achieving near-zero emissions by 2050, intends to peak its carbon emissions by 2025. Sinopec Corp. (the flagship subsidiary of Sinopec Group) also aims to peak its carbon emissions by 2025 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. CNOOC Ltd. (the flagship subsidiary of CNOOC) plans to reduce its GHG emissions by 16 percent between 2020 and 2025 and aims to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

This report, part of the China Energy and Climate Program at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, provides a baseline for understanding how China’s NOCs are responding to climate change. It examines the activities the three companies identified as part of their emerging energy transition strategies before Xi unveiled the carbon peaking and carbon neutrality targets, and why they didn’t do more. The report then assesses the implications of China’s new climate ambitions for its NOCs and lays out their preparations to date for supporting Xi’s 2030 and 2060 pledges.