30 april 2018

China's Carbon Emissions May Be Declining More Rapidly Than Expected

Climate Action Tracker, April 30, 3018

China’s CO2 emissions rose in 2017, suggesting that it is still too early to say if CO2 emissions have peaked. China’s Paris Agreement commitment requires its CO2 emissions to peak by 2030. Declining emissions between 2014 and 2016 led some researchers, including the Climate Action Tracker, to postulate that the peak may have been reached. However, 2017 saw coal use increase for the first time in three years (although it remained below its 2013 peak), which, together with rising demand for oil and gas, drove CO2 emissions above 2014 levels, the previous record high.

The question is, what comes next? If the recent overall downward trend in China’s coal use continues for the next few years, it is plausible that overall CO2 emissions peaked in 2017. In this case, total Chinese GHG emissions would be likely to only show a very slight increase in the period between 2015–2030 and will essentially plateau at close to 12.0 GtCO2e/year. If, however, coal consumption does not continue to decline, and instead stalls at today’s levels, and no additional policies are introduced to limit other, non-CO2­ gases, China’s total GHG emissions could continue to rise until at least 2030.

With current policies, China is on track to meet or exceed its 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. The CAT rates China’s NDC “Highly insufficient,” as it is not ambitious enough to limit warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort.

Despite the increase in 2017 emissions, China’s top climate official, Xie Zhenhua, has announced that China met its 2020 carbon intensity target in 2017, three years ahead of schedule. CAT analysis based on official Chinese GDP data confirms this. If China maintains this intensity level (or lowers it) over the next three years, it will achieve the intensity element of its 2020 pledge. Under current policies, China is also likely to achieve its (more stringent) 2020 target to limit fossil fuels, but neither of these targets are compatible with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C.


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