China issues plan for non-ferrous metals industry to comply with peak carbon emissions goals

China laid out a plan on Thursday, November 10 to decarbonize the non-ferrous metals industry, reiterating the energy-intensive sector's need to not exceed peak carbon emissions by 2030 in response to the country’s climate goals

The plan was jointly unveiled by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE). It stipulates that recycled metal will account for more than 24% of the total supply of non-ferrous metals in the country during the 14th period of the five-year plan, which covers 2021-2025. And more than 30% of the total output of aluminium during the 15th period of the plan (2026-2030) will be produced using renewable energy, the plan says.

In achieving each goal during the two periods, efforts will go into curbing the expansion of energy-intensive metals and advancing low-carbon technologies, as well as into promoting the use of clean-energy alternatives, according to the plan.

For example, authorities will not allow the “reckless” expansion of key metals such as aluminium, and instead should address the current surplus in aluminium production. The authorities will tighten the oversight of aluminium’s total output and strictly prevent new aluminium capacities from expanding, making these efforts part of the central government’s environmental inspection focus. They will also relocate aluminium capacities from northern to southern China, which is rich in clean energy.

Aluminium production consumes the most energy in the non-ferrous sector, which has led market participants to equate the production cost for the metal to that for power generation.

China had capped the light metal’s annual smelting capacity at 45 million tonnes. In the past nine months of the year, however, China’s aluminium output amounted to 30 million tonnes, 2.8% higher than in the same period of last year, the latest data released from the country’s statistics bureau showed.

To aid the non-ferrous industry’s green transition, China will work on including key non-ferrous metals into its carbon market, the plan says.

The non-ferrous industry had been expected to be included in China’s emissions trading system (ETS) this year, but in May local media reported a delay in achieving this due to the difficulty of calibrating the industry’s carbon emissions.

On August 1, the MIIT, NDRC and the MEE jointly issued a generic decarbonization plan targeting the industrial sector. For metals, that plan envisioned China’s output of secondary copper reaching 4 million tonnes by 2025, and that of secondary aluminium hitting 11.5 million tonnes.

By 2025, secondary metals, including secondary lead, should account for at least 24% of the total output for all metals, according to the August plan. These goals have been reiterated in the latest plan for the non-ferrous industry.

China announced in September 2020 that it will reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

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