A handful of recent news reports earlier this month point to the possibility that a “structural break” in China’s economy led the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to peak in 2014, suggesting the potential for the country to begin drawing down its carbon pollution far sooner than it promised under the Paris Agreement.
China committed in Paris to peak its greenhouse gas emissions “around 2030”, Reuters reports. Lead climate official Xie Zhenhua has said the country could keep that promise sooner. But “in retrospect, the commitment may have been fulfilled even as it was being made”, according to a study in the journal Nature Geoscience that shows the country’s emissions peaking at 9.53 gigatonnes in 2013, then declining over three years to 9.2 Gt in 2016.
“Unless there is a significant amount of change—a large government intervention like the stimulus package of 2008—then China’s emissions will stabilize and gradually go down,” said study co-author Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at the University of East Anglia. In May, Greenpeace warned China was “backsliding” on that progress, with emissions rising 2% last year and 4% in the first quarter of 2018. But Guan “said calculations for 2017 are incomplete and fail to take into account rising coal quality, efficiency improvements, or land use changes that could have taken more CO2 out of the system,” Reuters states.
Guan added that the level at which China’s emissions peak is more important than the timing. “Even if we peak in 2019 and 2020, if it reaches 13 gigatonnes it would also be a disaster,” he told Reuters. Which lines up well with a 2018 to 2020 pollution action plan, released in early July by China’s State Council, that calls for the country to reduce its coal consumption, speed up electric vehicle sales, and “shut more outdated steel and coke capacity” over the next three years, according to a separate Reuters dispatch.
“China is in the fifth year of a ‘war on pollution’ aimed at reversing the damage done to the country’s environment since the economy was opened up in 1978,” Reuters explains. The new plan “will expand the fight to 82 cities across China, and confirmed that the major coal-producing provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi have been added to the list of ‘key’ pollution control regions.” It calls for a 10% reduction in coal consumption between 2016 and 2020 in the Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, and heavily-industrialized Henan regions, as well as a 5% cut in the Yangtze river delta.
The plan bans new steel, coke, and primary aluminum production in the target regions through 2020 and caps steel capacity in Hebei, which accounts for about one-quarter of the country’s output, at 200 million tonnes by 2020, down 30% from the 286 million tonnes it produced in 2013.
Meanwhile, Quartz is out with a look at five manufacturers, collectively responsible for 70% of China’s battery production for electric vehicles and hybrids, that are backing multiple “gigafactories” in different parts of the country. “While they may not be on the scale of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, under construction since 2014, and which is aiming for annual production of 35 gigawatt-hours when complete, the Chinese firms are moving fast,” writes correspondent Echo Huang. And none too soon: “The country sold 328,000 new energy vehicles, a term that includes hybrids and pure EVs, as of May, 1.5 times the sales figures of the same period a year earlier.”
But that hasn’t stopped the country from investing in overseas fossil development. Reuters also carried a short post on the more than US$50 billion in oil-for-loan agreements that China has signed with Venezuela over the last decade, an arrangement that has “helped Beijing secure energy supplies for its fast-growing economy while bolstering an anti-Washington ally in Latin America.” After becoming the country’s “principal financier” over the last 10 years, China “has recently cooled on Venezuela amid its economic meltdown and sharply declining oil production,” the news agency stated.
But now, “we have clinched an authorization for direct investment from the China Development Bank, to increase [state oil company] PDVSA’s production, of more than $250 million,” according to a statement attributed to Venezuelan Finance Minister Simon Zerpa. “We are already moving forward specific financing as part of the special $5-billion credit the Chinese government has given to Venezuela for direct investment in production.”