China: Climate Progress Indicators

Significant improvement in air quality index (AQI) in eight Chinese cities from March to June 2022; slight decrease in coal output from April 2021 to April 2022; a drop of 14.5 in wind energy output while a 25% growth rate in solar PV between April 2021 and April 2022.

Aggregated actual emission data from China is not available through public sources. Hence, this post looks at cumulative figures for coal, solar PV and wind energy output published by the National Bureau of Statistics to track potential proxy data for emissions produced from energy sources to progress on decarbonization in China. The energy sector remains the biggest CO2 emissions producing industry in China. It also taps into publicly available data on air quality. The Ministries of Environment and Ecology’s Air Quality Index (AQI) publishes air quality data for numerous cities in China on an hourly and daily basis. The AQI comprises monitoring of pm 2.5, O3, SO2 values but also greenhouse gases such as NO2.

The AQI indicator in this report shows air quality changes in eight selected Chinese cities that are important as commercial or industrial hubs and represent different regions of the vast country. The baseline figures for this post were first taken on March 1, 2022, a second reading was done on June 23, 2022.

The baseline figures of cumulative output for coal as well as wind and solar PV energy date from 2019. In general, energy output figures are published on a monthly basis for a period of 12 months. The first measurement benchmarks the cumulative values from December 2021 against the baseline figures from December 2019. The second measurement was taken from the aggregated April 2022 numbers and benchmarked against the value from the same period (Year-on-Year) of the previous year. Attempts to track on a quarterly basis and benchmark Year-on-Year developments shall be made.

The air quality for the selected eight cities in China has shown a significant improvement over March this year with six cities showing good air quality and only two showing exceeding values of pm 10 particle matter and ozone.

For coal output, the December 2021 value showed a significant increase by more than 10% over the same period of the year, while Year-on-Year data for April shows a slight decrease of 1.8% of coal output. So, coal output grew at a slower pace of 1.8% April 2021 to April 22, rather than at 10% from December 2020 to December 2021. It grew, but slower.

While output of wind energy keeps growing, the overall growth rate dropped to 14.5% from more than 21% for the same period last year (April 2021 to April 2022). On the other hand, solar PV energy output rebounded strongly with nearly 25% growth in April 2022 Year-on-year, after a slump of -6.4% for the December 2022 year-on-year value.

Better air, higher coal output and a drop in wind energy output are likely the results of China’s COVID-19 induced lock-downs. Since the beginning of 2022 some 100 cities were under severe lock-down due to COVID-19 outbreak across China. This impacted activities around China, from traveling to construction, meaning less cars on the road, less cement and steel production and probably less wind turbine set-up. It is possible that solar PV output has increased as smaller solar PV systems for residential purposes may have continued as it is easier to install than wind turbines. At the same time, China’s government has been trying to keep its industry going and avoid another energy crisis like in 2021, in the wake of which more coal output to keep industries operating and private households warm was permitted. Also see the excellent analysis on China’s continued drop in emissions by Carbonbrief from May 2022.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard China Country Manager Annette Wiedenbach


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