Carbon emissions from China are growing faster now than before COVID-19 hit, data show, raising hopes that the pandemic may be setting the world’s most polluted country on a new path to emission.
We compared China’s emissions during the first four months of 2019—before the pandemic—and 2023. Emissions increased by 10% between the two periods, despite the pandemic and the country’s slowing economic recovery. China. Power generation and industry are driving the increase.
Under the Paris Agreement, China has pledged to ensure carbon emissions peak by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2060. Our analysis suggests that China may struggle to meet these ambitious goals.
Many believe that the economic recovery from COVID will lead the world to move towards a less carbon-intensive footing. But China’s new road seems less sustainable than before. That’s bad news for global efforts to tackle climate change.
An alarming trend in emissions
The COVID pandemic curbed greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, largely due to reduced passenger travel. This leads to the prospect of a “green” economic recovery where government stimulus spending will be invested in climate-friendly projects, to ensure a long-term slowdown in emissions growth.
Some researchers have analyzed trends in China’s emissions up to 2019 and predict that the country’s emissions will peak in 2026. Others say the peak will occur even earlier, in 2025.
But unfortunately, it seems those predictions are too optimistic.
We analyzed data from the Carbon Monitor, which provides science-based estimates of daily CO₂ emissions around the world. We compared the emission data from January to April 2019 (representing the typical situation before the pandemic in China) with the corresponding months of 2023. This period follows the removal of most restrictions related to China’s COVID—like testing requirements and quarantine rules—essentially restored the country’s economy to business-as-usual.
We found that average daily carbon emissions increased significantly between the two periods. In the first four months of 2019, China’s transportation, industry, energy and residential sectors together emitted an average of 28.2 million tons of CO₂ per day. In the first four months of 2023, the daily emissions from the sectors are an average of 30.9 million tons.
Emissions from the residential and transportation sectors did not change significantly. This is a bit of good news—it’s better than rising emissions. But these are the two smallest sectors, together accounting for only 18% of China’s emissions.
Instead, the increase is driven by emissions from China’s industrial and energy sectors. The average daily emissions from the industry increased between 2019 and 2023 by 1.1 million tons or 11%. From energy, which includes the generation of electricity, they increased by 1.75 million tons or 14%.
Energy production from solar and wind in China increased significantly between the two periods. But progress has been outpaced by electricity generated from fossil fuels.
Separate data show that China’s coal production growth is accelerating. In the two years before the pandemic, coal production either fell or grew only slightly. But coal production grew during the pandemic, and it continues. In the year to April 2023, coal production increased by about 5%.
While coal’s share of energy consumption dropped significantly from 2007 to 2019, little has changed since then. That’s because energy use is growing fastest in the electricity sector, which remains dominated by coal.
The global picture
Emissions in many developed countries have fallen in recent years due to government policies, slow economic growth, and a shift from coal to natural gas.
Developing countries increasingly dominate global emissions. China can be expected to be a leader in the clean energy transition among developing countries—in part because it produces far less oil than it consumes. That means its energy supply is not secure, giving it an incentive to find alternative sources of electricity.
There is another reason why China should be a trailblazer in reducing emissions. China is the world’s largest emitter—so a percentage reduction in emissions results in fewer tons of CO₂ in the atmosphere than if a smaller country reduced emissions by the same percentage. And, in part because China’s population and economy are so large, it has benefited more than any other country in the world from a more stable global climate.
But as we’ve outlined, China’s trajectory has never led the world. What’s more, China’s moves on the international stage suggest it may be less cooperative in climate negotiations than it has been in recent years. We saw this at the COP27 global climate conference in Egypt late last year, when China did not participate in a pledge to curb methane emissions and refused to provide financial support to developing countries. which are vulnerable to climate change.
The potential for climate policy cooperation is further reduced by ongoing tensions between China and the United States. All of this serves to cast doubt on China following its Paris pledges—and indeed, any chance its emissions will increase in the next two years.
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Citation: China is pumping carbon emissions as if COVID never happened. That’s bad news for the climate crisis (2023, July 10) retrieved on 11 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-china-carbon-emissions-covid-bad.html
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