China’s Carbon Emissions Might Have Peaked, Study Says

by | Jul 3, 2018

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China’s carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 2013 and have decreased year-on-year since then, a new study in Nature Geoscience concluded. Using the latest available energy, economic, and industry data, a research team found that the decline is likely to be sustained if emerging industrial and energy system transitions in the country continue.

Led by Dabo Guan and Jing Meng from the University of East Anglia, the study notes that that China is the top CO2-emitting nation in the world, responsible for nearly one third of the total in 2015. After a long period of rapidly growing emissions, China pledged to lower them by 2030.

“We find that slowing economic growth in China has made it easier to reduce emissions. Nevertheless, the decline is largely associated with changes in industrial structure and a decline in the share of coal used for energy,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers point to several factors that aided in the decline. Over a three-year span, the country eliminated outdated capacity in 16 energy-intensive industries, which included reductions in coal production, iron and steel processing, and cement.

“These structural changes have been reinforced by policies aimed at improving air quality and boosting the deployment of low-carbon energy sources,” the researchers wrote. “For example, the Chinese government has strictly limited the development of new coal-fired power plants since 2013.”

China’s Emerging Carbon Markets

In December, China launched a cap-and-trade program for the electricity industry, which is still mainly powered by coal-fired generation. In the future, the program is likely to expand to the transportation and industrial sectors.

“The average price of carbon across seven markets in 2017 was between $3 – $10 per ton of CO2, raising roughly $680 million in total transactions,” Hal Harvey and Hu Min of Energy Innovation wrote in Forbes at the time. They estimated that if China could get the price to $10 and maintain it, the country’s emissions would drop by quarter or more by 2030.

Guan, Meng, and their colleagues point out that China’s seven local and regional pilot carbon market schemes are on track to be replaced by a nationwide emissions trading scheme this year.

“China has also pledged to improve national energy intensity during the period 2015 – 2020, which will further translate to emissions reduction in coming years,” they wrote. “Moreover, in response to the USA withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, China has increasingly assumed a leadership role in climate change mitigation, and its five-year progress reports under the agreement will be heavily scrutinized by the rest of the world.”

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