Beijing – An analysis of key project lists for Shanghai and three high-GDP provinces – Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu – shows strategic investment concentrating in Guangdong, as it sends mixed signals on its energy transition.

Guangdong province’s key projects list¹ for strategic investment included 2,695 projects this year, at least ten times more than the other top provinces in this analysis, and included 68 fossil gas power projects and 25 fossil gas infrastructure projects, despite Guangdong’s already well-developed renewable energy power base and continued investment. In 2022, Guangdong’s investment in low-carbon key projects was 1150.2 billion yuan, with a 95.2% increase since 2020. Investment in fossil fuel projects was 385.1 billion yuan, with a 21.8% increase. This year has seen an overall decrease in coal investment for Guangdong and strong headwinds for fossil gas in China.

“Guangdong appears to be pivoting to fossil gas as a late-stage transition fuel. China’s Net Zero strategy indicates that top provinces should lead the way in the national energy transition. But, at this point it seems that low-carbon policies are not encouraging a full swing energy transition in Guangdong,” said Beijing-based Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Qiu Chengcheng.

Jiangsu’s total investment in fossil fuel key projects has decreased 30.9% from 2020 to 2022, as the once coal-dependent province, which did not meet its 15th Five Year-Plan targets for decarbonization, builds out a low-carbon power base including six solar plants, four wind plants, four energy storage projects, and 18 electric vehicle projects. In 2022, investment in fossil fuel projects only made up 0.84% of all key projects, with 6.1% of total funds invested in 2022. Among energy investments, low carbon projects made up more than 70% of all investments per year from 2020 to 2022. 

Zhejiang’s investment in fossil fuel projects has increased 5% annually since 2020, to 92.3 billion yuan in 2022. Low-carbon projects decreased at the same time, from 164.8 billion yuan in 2020 to 98.6 billion in 2022.

Shanghai’s investment in fossil fuel projects also increased 19.9% annually to 31.5 billion yuan in 2022. Low-carbon projects also decreased during that time, from 52.0 billion to 22.1 billion. In 2022, 19.9% of Shanghai’s total funding to these key projects went to fossil fuel.

“Among top provinces, we can see coal dependent provinces laying the groundwork for a transition. Jiangsu is moving through the early stages. But there aren’t yet clear examples ahead for the next step. These are top provinces and, with the exception of Jiangsu, they are increasing spending in fossil fuels. As the key regional player in China, Guangdong should pioneer the energy transition. Using fossil gas as a sort of transition fuel is a dubious prospect, both financially and environmentally,” said Qiu. 

Graph 1: A comparison of key project energy investment as a percentage of total investment in all energy projects.

Provincial governments use key project lists to apply for priority status on projects that meet strategic economic or social planning purposes. Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai have the first, second, fourth, and tenth largest GDPs, respectively, among China’s provinces and direct-administered municipalities, and are often first movers on Beijing’s strategic economic policy initiatives.

One such policy is “promoting the optimization and adjustment of energy structure”, under which Guangdong-based fossil gas projects have received significant investment and policy support. This policy’s language refers to both securing stable energy supply and peak shaving of electricity demand. Guangdong is already at a relatively advanced stage of its energy transition, and this year has the highest proportion of non-fossil fuel energy consumption at 30%. In 2022, Guangdong had both the most new fossil fuel projects and low-carbon energy projects.

Share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption in 2020Change from 2015 (percentage points)Difference from goal in 2025 (percentage points)Share of coal in primary energy consumption in 2020Change from 2015 (percentage points)Difference from goal in 2025 (percentage points)
Graph 2: Province’s energy consumption in 2015, 2020, and the difference from 2025 targets.

“Key project lists are where Beijing’s economic planning turns into strategic investments in the provinces. You expect to see early indicators of who is leading the energy transition here, and where they’re pointing the ship. These top provinces and their economies are the horizon for provincial governments around China. Top provinces can lead China to a quicker path on carbon peaking,” said Qiu. 

Greenpeace urges the central government to put forward strong determination and parameters for provinces with strong renewable energy foundations to step forward in their energy transitions, and reduce investment dependence on high-energy intensity and high-emissions industries. Guangdong should focus on navigating a full energy transition and develop renewable, low-carbon, low-methane energy sources. Growing investment in high tech projects can help expand low-carbon energy consumption. Meanwhile, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai should also focus on upgrading industries and energy consumption reduction, eliminating carbon-intensive projects from strategic plans and perfecting a new economic development model with clean energy. 



  1. Key project list is a translation of “重大项目清单”.

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August Rick, Greenpeace East Asia, Beijing, ([email protected].org)

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