Nuclear power station in China

China’s decline in carbon emissions warrants ‘cautious optimism’, study suggests

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China’s carbon emissions are expected to continue to decline as the country reforms its industrial sector and maintains its energy efficiency drive, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

As part of the Paris Agreement, China pledged to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030. In fact, China may already have fulfilled this commitment, with emissions peaking in 2013 at a level of 9.5 gigatons of CO2, declining in each successive year from 2014 to 2016.

After nearly two decades of rapidly rising emissions the study shows that slowing economic growth in China has made it easier to reduce emissions.

The decline of 4.2 per cent in the years to 2016 is largely associated with changes in industrial structure and a decline in the share of coal used for energy.

Decreasing energy intensity (energy per unit GDP) and emissions intensity (emissions per unit energy) also contributed to the decline.

The study authors say the peak prompts important questions about what factors are driving the current decrease, their relative importance and whether or not the decline can be sustained or even accelerated. In particular, if China’s emissions have fallen primarily as a result of slowing economic activity - as happened in the US during the global financial crisis - renewed economic growth could reverse the decrease.

The team explored this by assessing the drivers of Chinese CO2 emissions from 2007-2016, using the latest available energy, economic and industry data.

They warn that China’s emissions may fluctuate in the coming years and that may mean that 2013 may not be the ‘final’ peak. Indeed, preliminary figures for 2017 have shown an increase.

However, the changes in industrial activities, coal use, and efficiency that have caused the recent decline have roots in the changing structure of China’s economy and long-term government policies.

“As the world’s top emitting and manufacturing nation, this reversal is cause for cautious optimism among those seeking to stabilise the Earth’s climate,” said Professor Dabo Guan who led the research. “Now, the important question is whether the decline in Chinese emissions will persist.

“We conclude that the decline of Chinese emissions is structural and is likely to be sustained if the growing industrial and energy system transitions continue. Government policies are also a sign that the decline in China’s emissions will carry on.

“In response to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, China has increasingly assumed a leadership role in climate change mitigation and its five-year progress reports under the agreement will be heavily scrutinised by the rest of the world.”

The research comes as another study predicted that poor countries could have their credit rating negatively affected due to climate change events, leading to a possible $168bn in additional interest payments over the next decade.

Nations that rely heavily on agriculture are likely to suffer as global temperatures rise according to the UN research due to an increase in storms, floods and droughts that can destroy crops and curb production

Such risks push borrowing costs up as lenders charge more, one of the study’s authors Charles Donovan said.

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