Over the past 20 years, China has become a key player in global greenhouse gas emissions. Due to its large population, its rapid economic development has propelled it into the position of the largest emitting country, despite per capita emissions which are about half that of the United States. Many Western countries have had roughly stable emission levels, but China’s continue to rise. This means that China’s future trajectory will have a huge influence on the global trajectory.
China’s commitment, presented as part of the 2015 Paris International Agreement, was to ensure that its emissions peak and stabilize before the end of the agreement window in 2030. This no. This is no small feat considering that the country’s emissions have more than doubled in the past 10 years. or.
Of course, this could include anything from a high in 2016 to a high in 2029, and a lot of effort has gone into analyzing emission trends in Chinese industry and power generation. From 2015, a slowdown in economic growth and government guidance were already combining to mark a shift in China’s emissions trend. Some studies have shown that China may, in fact, already be very close to peak emissions thanks to transitions to cleaner industries and renewables.
A new study conducted by Haikun Wang, Xi Lu, and Yu deng does not look directly at the industry or the network. Instead, it examines the relationship between economic growth and emissions to project that China is expected to peak in the early 2020s.
City by city
The analysis uses data from 50 Chinese cities for a representative sample of factors at work across the country. Cities combine to account for around 35% of national emissions, 30% of the population, and 50% of total gross domestic product (GDP).
These cities vary widely, from types of industries to wealth to local grid power sources. But researchers are seeing evidence that these metropolises follow an economic relationship known as the environmental Kuznets curve– emissions per capita stop increasing once a certain GDP per capita is reached. The idea is basically that dirty growth ultimately provides the resources to move on to cleaner options.
After adjusting for things like location (whether a city’s electricity is supplied primarily by coal or nuclear and renewables) and the population density of cities of different sizes, the researchers calculated that emissions peak when per capita emissions reach around 10 tonnes of CO2 per year. This happens with an average GDP per capita of US $ 21,000.
When China signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, it averaged around 7.5 tonnes of CO2 per person per year and a GDP per capita of $ 13,500. Based on the World Bank’s economic projections, the researchers calculate that China is expected to hit $ 21,000 – and therefore peak emissions – between 2021 and 2025.
This would equate to peak national emissions of 13 to 16 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, against emissions of around 10 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2015. (For the context, the United States emits about 5.5 billion tonnes of CO2 each year with just under a quarter of the Chinese population.)
It could be even better
Of course, the researchers note that China could do a lot to beat those numbers. The design and infrastructure of growing cities can lead to lower or higher emissions from its citizens, for example.
Many Chinese cities (e.g. Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou) are relatively mature, and policies in these cities should focus more on how to improve energy efficiency (e.g. in existing buildings) and on how their initial endowments in carbon-intensive infrastructure. Emerging cities (eg Xiong’an) and new urban areas around old cities, which are currently expanding their infrastructure, may however have opportunities to jump and bypass carbon-intensive growth.
At the very least, there are encouraging signs that China will beat a pessimistic reading of its peak commitment by 2030. Next year, nations will come together for the first post-Paris negotiations, where they are expected to build on their initial promises. Based on this outlook, China may feel comfortable promising a lot more than it did in 2015.
Sustainability of nature, 2019. DOI: 10.1038 / s41893-019-0339-6 (About DOIs).