A solar power installation in Hong Kong

China sees first fall in carbon emissions since pandemic recovery

Image credit: WiNG

China’s carbon emissions fell by around 0.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2021, marking a turnaround after emissions boomed following its economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country, which is the world’s largest carbon emitter, saw it emissions rise by approximately 9 per cent in the first half of the year before tapering off in the following months.

The analysis from the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) found that much of the savings were achieved through emission declines in fossil fuel and concrete usage.

Furthermore, the declining trend in the third quarter steepened into September – the first month during which monthly emissions returned to 2019 levels – and looks set to deepen further in October, based on preliminary data.

This analysis is based on official figures for the domestic production, import and export of fossil fuels and cement, as well as commercial data on changes in stocks of stored fuel. In the case of coal and natural gas, the growth rates are adjusted to match officially reported quarterly growth rates, when available.

Last year, China finally committed to bringing its carbon emissions down to net zero by 2060, a decade later than pledges made by most Western countries.

However, China has a huge export market for goods that are primarily purchased by consumers in developed countries. This effectively shifts many of the manufacturing emissions from those wealthier nations onto China which is then responsible for undertaking the difficult task of eliminating emissions from those hard-to-decarbonise sectors.

The country does appear to be ramping up its efforts to cut down on its carbon output – during the COP26 conference in Glasgow earlier this month, the US and China unveiled a joint declaration designed to slow the pace of climate change. The framework agreement proposed a number of measures including cutting methane emissions, phasing out coal consumption and protecting forests.

In a report posted on the Carbon Brief website, Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst with CREA, said: “The drop in emissions could mark a turning point and an early peak in China’s total emissions, years ahead of its target to peak before 2030.”

Other factors adding to the drop include tight coal supplies and record-high prices that caused power outages in many Chinese regions late in the third quarter, hitting industrial operations and disrupting residential usage.

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