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Carbon Benchmarks

China Needs to Hit Peak Oil Long Before It Reaches Net-Zero Emissions

Consumption bounced back quickly after China contained the coronavirus, raising concerns about its goal to cap demand by 2025.

Oil storage tanks opposite a floating solar farm in Ningbo, in China’s Zhejiang province, on April 22.

Oil storage tanks opposite a floating solar farm in Ningbo, in China’s Zhejiang province, on April 22.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

On a freezing December morning, hundreds of oil traders, industry researchers and government officials battled bumper-to-bumper congestion as they headed to a hotel north of Beijing’s Forbidden City for an annual conference hosted by the country’s top energy producer.

The city’s notorious traffic had returned in full force, the latest sign that China’s economic activity was bouncing back after its early containment of the coronavirus. In the hotel’s ballroom, a China National Petroleum Corp. official shared the good news: road-fuel consumption had surpassed pre-virus levels, after taking a brutal hit during the nation’s sweeping lockdowns.