Potentially putting Beijing under pressure to toughen its climate pledges a new study indicates China’s carbon emissions, by far the world’s highest, may have peaked in 2014.
China has promised to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by “around 2030” as part of its commitments to a global pact to combat global warming, signed in Paris last year.
The study, by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics, said that the 2030 peak was a very conservative estimate.
That news was revealed in its five-year plan published on Saturday, marking the first time the world’s second-biggest economy has set such a target.
“It is quite possible that emissions will fall modestly from now on, implying that 2014 was the peak,” said the Grantham Research Institute report, noting that recent data already showed that China’s emissions fell in 2015.
While total energy consumption rose 0.9 per cent to 4.3 billion tonnes of standard coal in 2015, coal consumption fell 2.2 per cent year on a year earlier, according to Reuters Newsagency calculations based on official data.
Chinese carbon experts said any fall in emissions in 2015 would be mainly due to a slowdown in China’s economy, and it was unlikely that emissions had peaked so early.
“I would like to believe that the peak will be around 2030, and if stricter policies for carbon reduction and some reforms in the way local leaders are evaluated on GDP growth, the peak will come in 2025,” said Dr Xi Fengming, a carbon researcher with the China Academy of Sciences.
“But I do not think China has reached peak emissions in 2014,” he said.
The government said earlier that it would cap total energy consumption at five billion tonnes of standard coal by 2020, amounting to an increase of 16.3 per cent from 2015.
It also said that it would cut carbon intensity, or the amount of CO2 emissions per unit of economic growth, by 18 per cent over the 2016-2020 period.
China also agreed it would make its best efforts to peak earlier.
One of the main bones of contention during the Paris climate talks was a regular five-year “stocktaking” process that would compel countries to adjust their targets in light of new economic or technological circumstances, with China arguing that any such adjustments must be voluntary.
“It will be up to the Chinese government whether they increase their target but there will obviously be a lot of international opinion looking forward to additional measures, whether it is China or anyone else,” he told reporters.