China’s emission fall post-Covid recovery in ‘turning point’ against climate change

China must 'follow the money' for decarbonisation says Lloyd

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The world’s biggest polluter has vowed at the COP26 summit this month to slash its greenhouse emissions by 2060 in stark defiance of the more widely accepted 2050 target. But China may well be on its way to upholding its pledge, according to a new report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) for Carbon Brief. Figures published by the group on Thursday indicate that China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) output has fallen by about 0.5 percent in the third quarter, compared to last year.

The year-on-year decline in CO2 was attributed to emissions from the cement industry and the burning of fossil fuels.

It comes after China’s planet-warming output increased by nine percent in the first half of the year due to the Chinese economy roaring back to life on the back of the coronavirus pandemic.

This was largely fueled by a wave of stimulus spending that bolstered China’s weakened economy.

The data also indicates China’s declining emissions steepened going into September and monthly emissions hit levels last seen in 2019.

According to Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA lead analyst, the analysis was based on official figures relating to domestic production, the import and export of fossil fuels, and the production of cement.

The cement industry is a particularly egregious emitter of CO2 and by some estimates, contributes more than 2.8 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas each year.

In other words, between four and eight percent of the world’s total man-made carbon emissions come from the production of cement.

In his report, Mr Myllyvirta said China’s declining emissions could be a positive sign for the global fight against climate change.

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However, he warned against being too complacent with the report’s findings.

He wrote: “Looking ahead, the drop in emissions could mark a turning point and an early peak in China’s emissions total, years ahead of its target to peak before 2030.

“Alternatively, if the Chinese government injects further construction stimulus to boost its economy, emissions could rebound once again, before peaking later this decade.”

Various reports have named China the world’s biggest polluter, placing the country ahead of the US and India.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, estimated last year China accounted for about 28 percent of the global CO2 emissions.

Another report published by the World Resources Institute claimed China accounted for more than 26 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions.

And in May this year, research carried out by the Rhodium Group determined China had emitted 27 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases in 2019, with emissions tripling over the last three decades.

However, the researchers said that adjusted for population, China was emitting less than the US.

According to Mr Myllyvirta, China’s CO2 output saw a steep incline in late 2020 and early 2021 due to post-Covid recovery.

Consequently, emissions within this period saw the biggest year-on-year increase in a decade.

The expert said: “China’s climate targets of peaking CO2 emissions before 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality before 2060 leave space for emissions increases until late this decade and for a very wide range of possible emissions trajectories over the decade that follows.

“In July, China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said that the Central Committee and State Council top-level policy documents on CO2 peaking and carbon neutrality would specify a timetable and a roadmap for carbon peaking. “

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