China’s CO2 Emissions Have Been Constantly Increasing Over the Past Two Decades With a Steep Increase of 3.4% From 2018-2019

Recently Reported Greenhouse Gas Emissions Level:

9,528.21 Megatons in 2018 Compared to 2088.85 Megatons in 1990 (IEA)

9,825.8 Megatons in 2019 Compared to 2,323.8 Megatons in 1990 (IEA)

11,535.20 Megatons in 2019 Compared to 2,404.74 Megatons in 1990 (EDGAR)

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reports for China vary in numbers but are unified in that they cover mainly CO2 emission data based on estimates from fuel consumption conversion. Most notable among databases is the international monitoring organisation Carbon Monitor, which provides monthly science-based estimates of daily CO2 emissions based on a broad set of data and following IPCC protocol in the conversion of fuels to CO2 values.

Estimates provided by the various monitoring organisations vary quite significantly:

Database Year MtCO2
Climate Action Tracker 2019 13,500
EDGAR 2019 11,535.20
BP annual energy monitor 2019 9,825.80
IEA 2018 9,528.21
CEADS 2017 9,293

This post reports on different monitoring units offering 2019 data on CO2 emissions. Climate Action Tracker is a non-profit consortium providing independent scientific analysis and tracking government climate action against the Paris Climate Agreement. The Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) is operated by the European Commission although corporate energy giant BP publishes an annual energy monitor. The International Energy Agency publishes data based on 2018 numbers. The China Emission Accounts and Datasets (CEADS) database has been set up by University College London and Tsinghua University Professor Dabo Guan, aiming at a broader set of datapoints from 2017 including agriculture and urban energy use.

The variations are based on different data availability with some factoring in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion for energy in industrial production and others including conversions of GHGs from agriculture, household emissions, and emissions from urban transport. While individual estimates vary, they are consistent in indicating that China’s emissions alone make up roughly 30% of global emissions.

China’s government currently only publishes carbon intensity data (i.e. CO2 emissions per 10,000 Chinese Yuan of GDP) but the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation is preparing a national carbon emissions inventory site which has yet to be updated with data.

While overall emissions in China have been steadily increasing, carbon emission intensity has been steadily declining. Data for 2017, 2018, and 2019 shows CO2 decreases of 5.1%, 4.0%, and 4.1% respectively. According to the Global Carbon Project’s timeline function (1998 – 2018) CO2 emissions have leveled out after a steep rise in the first decade of the 2000’s. Here, emissions tripled from 3,266 MtCO2 in 1998 to 9,634 MtCO2 in 2012, but then leveled off for a few years before rising again more significantly between 2018 to 2019. This trend is compounded by similar numbers in the BP report, EDGAR, and CEADS.

The reduced increase in CO2 emissions coincides with policies on energy reform, reduction of air pollution from coal, stricter pollution standards for production, and overall industry reform. The 2005 “Renewable Energy Law” encouraged the development of alternative forms of energy—especially renewable energy. Coupled with subsidies for solar and wind energy installations, China’s share of renewable energy has grown rapidly. China has been cutting subsidies since 2018, consequently slowing further wind and solar power installations. A coal consumption cap was put forward in the 2013 Air Pollution Prevention and Reduction Action Plan and the Energy Development Strategy Action Plan (2014-2020).  The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has set new target values to prohibit or limit certain greenhouse gases and regulate high-energy-consuming industries. Existing companies with a per-unit-of-production energy consumption higher the threshold value risk shutdown of operations. Permits for new production ask for higher energy efficiency and companies with an advanced energy efficiency value are eligible for awards. These regulations also require managers to fulfill and be measured against the energy consumption cap.

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China’s overall CO2 emissions have been constantly increasing over the past two decades with a steep increase of 3.4% from 2018-2019. At the same time, carbon intensity has decreased meaning less carbon is being emitted per unit of GDP than 10 years ago. In the Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement, China promised to reduce carbon intensity by 40-45% from 2005 to 2020. According to a McKinsey Global Institute 2019 report, this milestone was already achieved by the end of 2017.

China has been among the largest Foreign Direct Investment recipients since it opened its economy to the world in the early 90s, with many Western companies investing first in production then services to reap lower labour costs and access the Chinese market. Incoming investment contributed to overall industrial production, a rising GDP, and greater job availabilities to lift millions out of poverty and accelerate local consumption. Foreign investment was so high in the 2000s that China was referred to as the “factory of the world”. As a result, the country has seen a continued increase in energy consumption. Seeking to rebalance its economy, China’s Five-Year Plan of 2010 aimed policies towards improving the environment and move up the value chain. Resulting FDI strategies have taken a more selective approach to attract environmentally sustainable, energy efficient, and technologically advanced industries. At the same time, laws governing air pollution and environmental pollution introduced in 2015 sought to tackle local industrial activity.

While gains in energy efficiency and a shift to renewable energy and cleaner coal power technology have decreased emissions per unit of production, the actual still expanding volume of manufacturing has increased. As a consequence, any gains were offset by higher CO2 emissions.

Contact (for English):

Premier Li Keqiang / 李克强总理


Statistical Review of World Energy – all data, 1965 -2019

This post was submitted by China Country Manager Annette Wiedenbach

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