Premier calls for more oil and gas extraction, but reaffirms carbon neutrality

Premier Li Keqiang has laid down the key tasks for the energy sector over the next year, at a meeting of the National Energy Commission on Sunday 9 October. 
Li opened by stressing the need to address the country’s ongoing power shortages crisis as well as the need to reduce emissions. Addressing doubts about the rationale behind China targeting peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, Li said “we must effectively manage development and emissions reduction, and the relationship between the present moment and long-term objectives.”
To the consternation of some climate observers, on the topic of energy security Li focused on how China should exploit fossil fuels, calling for the “optimisation of coal production, the reasonable expansion of advanced coal power”, alongside the phasing out of outdated coal power plants. He also called for an increase in domestic oil and gas extraction.
The emphasis triggered some commentators to worry that China is backtracking on its climate commitments. At a press conference held on Wednesday, the secretary general of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Zhao Chenxin, refuted such interpretations.
Li also mentioned the need to deepen market reforms in the power sector, an item long on the agenda and now boosted as the government tackles power shortages. On Tuesday 12 October, the NDRC announced that prices for coal-generated power would be allowed to fluctuate as much as 20%, with market demand.
Li concluded his speech by stressing that “achieving carbon peak and carbon neutrality is a requirement for the transformation and upgrade of our national economy, as well as a globally shared requirement to address climate change.” 
The comments are more conservative in tone than those made by Xi at international fora like the UN General Assembly. But it is notable that, in the face of the country’s most serious energy crisis in years and significant domestic pushback, China’s leadership are sticking firmly to their carbon peaking and neutrality pledges.
Read more on China’s complex energy transition on China Dialogue here