- Joint Program Report
A major uncertainty in future energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions projections for China is the evolution of demand for personal transportation modes. This paper explores the implications of divergent personal transportation scenarios, either favoring private vehicles, or emphasizing a sector including all purchased transport (including local public transit, rail and aviation) as substitute for vehicle travel. Motivated by a wide range of forecasts for transport indicators in the literature, we construct plausible scenarios with low-, medium- and high-transport demand growth, and implement them in a technology-rich model which represents opportunities for fuel economy improvement and switching to plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs). The analysis compares primary energy use and GHG emissions in China in the absence and presence of climate policies. We find that a policy that extends the current Chinese emissions-intensity goals through 2050 mostly affects other sectors with lower abatement costs, and so only lightly engages household transport, permitting nearly the same large increases in refined oil demand (by more than five times) and private vehicle stocks (to 430–500 million) as in the reference case. A stringent climate stabilization policy affects household transport, limiting vehicle ownership and petroleum demand, but drives up the share of household spending on transport, and carries high economy-wide costs. The large projected scale of vehicle fleets, refined oil use and transport purchases all suggest that the rate and type of travel demand growth deserves attention by policymakers, as China seeks to address its energy, environmental, and economic goals.