China's Carbon Footprint Swells to Record Size


Caixin Media, China

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning — the primary cause of climate change — will grow for a second consecutive year in 2018, according to a new report that predicts China’s emissions will increase by 4.7 percent.

Emissions from China, India and the United States are now all thought likely to increase despite earlier signs they might plateau.

Total global emissions are set to increase by 2.7 percent, after a 1.6 percent rise in 2017.

A power plant in Chengde, Hebei Province. China's reliance on coal has contributed to making it the world's largest carbon polluter / Credit: Gustavo M via Flikr

The trend reflects China’s reliance on coal for heating and heavy industry, though the report —the Global Carbon Budget 2018, released on Dec. 5 by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) — notes that China’s coal consumption has likely peaked.

According to the China Power Project, which is based at U.S. think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, coal accounted for 60.4 percent of China’s energy mix in 2017. Much of China’s economy is based on industries that rely on coal.

Yang Fuqiang, a senior adviser on climate and energy at the China program of U.S.-based environmental group the National Resources Defense Council, noted that in 2017 and 2018, China’s coal consumption rebounded — mainly due to its increased use of steel and chemical production and other industries. This reversed previous achievements that saw China’s carbon emissions barely increase in the middle of the decade.

The GCP report warned that “recent declines in coal emissions [in China] may soon be undone if the return growth continues.”

China has been trying to reduce coal consumption through a “war on pollution” now in its fifth year. In July, the State Council announced its 2018-2020 pollution action plan, which requires a handful of northern regions known for heavy industry to cut coal use 10 percent by 2020. It also announced caps on steel production in Hebei Province, China’s largest steel-making hub.

The Chinese government has also looked to ramp up the use of other energy sources, such as liquefied natural gas. However, projects to tap shale gas reserves have hit obstacles as firms cannot bear the high costs and difficulty of exploration.

The GCP report contradicts a November announcement from China’s Ministry of Science and Technology that the speed of increase in China’s annual emissions was slowing and had plateaued from 2013 to 2017. The report said that while it did plateau until 2016, it began to rise again in 2017.

Ning Leng, a China Public Policy Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center, said the change reflects China’s economic circumstances.

“Usually, emissions decrease, rather than increase, in an economic downturn. Here we see the opposite,” she told Caixin. “This shows an active and strong role of the Chinese state in pushing the economy up by all means.”

The top four emitters of carbon dioxide in 2017 — China, the U.S., the EU and India — accounted for 58 percent of global emissions. China alone accounted for 27 percent.

But while China is the world’s largest contributor, it is not the only country to blame. Emissions from the U.S., which accounted for 15 percent of the world’s total last year, were expected to rise 2.5 percent this year. That would reverse several consecutive years of decline for the world’s largest economy.

Meanwhile, emissions from the EU were predicted to drop 0.7 percent this year and India’s were expected to rise 6.3 percent.

In October, a UN panel of scientists concluded that the world has only 12 years to make drastic structural changes in order limit global warming to moderate levels. A report from the NGO Climate Transparency followed, predicting G-20 countries would fail to meet targets laid out by the United Nations’ Paris Agreement.


【财新网】(记者 周辰)一份由国际组织发布的报告预计,2018年全球化石燃料和工业的二氧化碳排放量将连续第二年增长2%以上,达到创纪录水平。其中中国的碳排放在经过连续三年(2014-2016年)的平稳表现之后,在2017年出现小幅上升,而2018年的碳排放则保持了上升的势头。

全球碳计划(Global Carbon Project)组织在12月5日发布了对2018年全球碳排放的测算报告。结果显示,2018年全球二氧化碳排放量预计将增加2.7%,不确定性范围在1.8%至3.7%之间。全球能源消耗的增长,特别是石油、天然气的使用量的增加,抵消了为去碳化作出的努力。此外,增长的煤炭消费、以及增加的个人交通、货运、航空及航海运输等的需求,助长了2018年的碳排放。




与此同时,占全球排放量15%的美国,预计在2018年增长2.5%(在0.5%-4.5%区间内)。 在连续几年的下行之后,美国碳排放也重新出现了增长。这主要因为美国的天气条件,导致寒冷天气的制热需求和炎热天气的制冷需求增加有关。报告预计2019年美国的排放量将再次下降,这表明廉价的天然气、风能和太阳能将继续取代煤炭。