China is on track to meet its climate change goals nine years early

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China appears on track to reach its carbon goals up to nine years earlier than planned under the Paris agreement, in a potential huge boost for efforts to tackle climate change.

The world’s biggest polluter accounts for a quarter of humanity’s emissions today, making the nation a crucial part of any efforts to avoid dangerous global warming.

Now an analysis has found that China’s emissions could peak at 13 to 16 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2021 and 2025, making what the researchers call a “a great contribution” to meeting the Paris deal’s goal of limiting temperature rises to 2°C. The official target is a peak by “around 2030.”

“It reflects China’s great efforts in mitigating climate change and the ‘new normal’ of the economy, from high speed to high quality, which might cause CO2 emissions to peak earlier,” says Haikun Wang of Nanjing University. His Chinese-US team calculated their dates by looking at historical carbon emissions and GDP data for 50 Chinese cities between 2000 and 2016. They found that emissions tend to peak at 10.2 tonnes of CO2 per person when GDP hits around $21,000 per person.

The cities are responsible for 35 per cent of China’s total emissions, from which the researchers extrapolated a national picture, projecting it forward to find a peak. The possibility of China delivering early on its international target will be a boost for UN climate talks. Under the Paris deal, countries are due to submit revised and improved carbon targets next year.

The possibility of an early peak has been driven by the changing nature of China’s economy, a shift which is likely to continue. “As China moves towards a higher tech and service economy, it is likely to show how the passage to a low-carbon economy and robust and sustainable growth in an emerging market economy can be mutually supportive,” says Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics. The expectation of a peak by 2025 is in line with the lower end of other projections.

However, Haikun and colleagues admit they didn’t analyse many small cities, which have the potential to develop more, so the real emissions may end up higher. The US-based thinktank World Resources Institute also says that while more countries are peaking emissions – 57 are due by 2030, up from 19 in 1990 – it will still not be enough to make global emissions peak in the next few years.

This article originally appeared in New Scientist.

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