A new study has warned that reports of a historic dip in China’s carbon dioxide emissions in the past two years are premature because of uncertainty over data showing the pace of a decline in coal use by the world’s biggest consumer.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has been among those saying that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by China, the biggest emitter, fell in 2015 and 2014 in what it hailed as a shift to cleaner energy after years of fast growth.
“Headlines about falling emissions may be misinterpreting the numbers,” the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo, (CICERO) said in a statement of a report published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Reuters Newsagency reports China has promised to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by around 2030 as part of a United Nations sponsored 195-nation plan agreed in Paris in December to combat climate change, blamed for stoking more downpours, heatwaves and rising sea levels.
But CICERO pointed to uncertainties in China’s coal data, and frequent revisions.
However, China is also using higher quality coal, which releases more energy and carbon dioxide per tonne when burnt.
By that measure, China’s coal energy consumption fell by just 1.5 per cent last year, it said.
Overall, CICERO estimated China’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy use, including oil and gas, dipped by just 0.1 per cent in 2015 after a gain of 0.5 per cent in 2014.
China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, said on March 7 that carbon emissions were still rising.
By contrast, the IEA reported a decrease of 1.5 per cent in China’s energy-related carbon emissions for 2015 on March 16, underpinning its wider conclusion that a rise of global emissions stalled for a second year even as the economy grew.
Even taking CICERO’s advice on coal data, “the finding of a decoupling at global level between emissions and economic growth would not change to any significant extent”, IEA spokesman Greg Frost said.
Even so, the difference between CICERO’s estimate of a 0.1 per cent dip in Chinese emissions last year and the IEA’s 1.5 per cent fall amounts to 125 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, CICERO said, roughly the annual emissions of Belgium.
“China’s emissions growth has clearly slowed a lot, regardless of whether it has actually reversed,” lead author Dr Jan Ivar Korsbakken said.