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Has China already reached peaked carbon emissions

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In May, Greenpeace released an analysis of China’s global warming pollution that found the country’s carbon emissions had increased at an alarming 4 percent rate in the first quarter of 2018. SupChina covered that story, though it now contains a correction that clarifies that the analysis is unrelated to projections of whether China will fulfill its Paris Agreement goal of having carbon emissions peak before 2030.

The science of measuring a country’s CO2 output is complicated, and so different analyses do come up with markedly different results. A new study in Nature Geoscience, titled Structural decline in China’s CO 2 emissions through transitions in industry and energy systems, came to these conclusions:

  • “China’s emissions peaked in 2013 at a level of 9.53 gigatons of CO2, and have declined in each year from 2014 to 2016.”
  • “Slowing economic growth in China has made it easier to reduce emissions,” though a declining share of coal used for energy, as well as better overall numbers on energy intensity and emissions intensity, also “contributed to the decline.”

Some experts remain skeptical about whether China’s emissions have truly peaked.

  • Wai-Shin Chan, head of the climate change department at HSBC, told Reuters that “I would have genuinely wanted it to have peaked in 2013, but given the increase in 2017 and first few months in 2018, I am cautious.”
  • A coauthor of the study rebutted this, and “said calculations for 2017 are incomplete and fail to take into account rising coal quality, efficiency improvements or land use changes that could have taken more CO2 out of the system,” according to Reuters.
  • If more analyses in the coming months also show an earlier-than-expected peak in China’s carbon emissions, it “would bolster arguments that the Paris agreement is too lenient on the country, an argument made by U.S. President Donald Trump when he vowed to withdraw from the deal last year,” Reuters points out.

In other emissions news, Caixin reports (paywall) that China’s top economic planner “is devising a raft of market-pricing mechanisms that will force polluters to pay more to use resources such as water and electricity while making companies bear the brunt of cleanup costs.”

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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

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