Analysis: China’s emissions set to fall in 2024 after record growth in clean energy

China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are set to fall in 2024 and could be facing structural decline, due to record growth in the installation of new low-carbon energy sources.

Year-on-year change in China’s annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement, million tonnes. Emissions are estimated from National Bureau of Statistics data on production of different fuels and cement, China Customs data on imports and exports and WIND Information data on changes in inventories, applying IPCC default emissions factors and annual emissions factors per tonne of cement production until 2019. Monthly values are scaled to annual data on fuel consumption in annual Statistical Communiques and National Bureau of Statistics annual Yearbooks. Chart by Carbon Brief.

New analysis for Carbon Brief, based on official figures and commercial data, shows China’s CO2 emissions continuing to rebound from the nation’s “zero-Covid” period, rising by an estimated 4.7% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2023.

The strongest growth was in oil demand and other sectors that had been affected by pandemic policies, until the lifting of zero-Covid controls at the end of 2022.

Other key findings from the analysis include:

● China has been seeing a boom in manufacturing, which has offset a contraction in demand for carbon-intensive steel and cement due to the ongoing real-estate slump.
● The emissions rebound in 2023 has been accompanied by record installations of low-carbon electricity generating capacity, particularly wind and solar.
● Hydro generation is set to rebound from record lows due to drought in 2022-23.
● China’s economic recovery from Covid has been muted. To date, it has not repeated previous rounds of major infrastructure expansion after economic shocks.
● There has been a surge of investment in manufacturing capacity, particularly for low-carbon technologies, including solar, electric vehicles and batteries.
● This is creating an increasingly important interest group in China, which could affect the country’s approach to domestic and international climate politics.
● On the other hand, coal power capacity continues to expand, setting the scene for a showdown between the country’s traditional and newly emerging interest groups.

Taken together, these factors all but guarantee a decline in China’s CO2 emissions in 2024.

If coal interests fail to stall the expansion of China’s wind and solar capacity, then low-carbon energy growth would be sufficient to cover rising electricity demand beyond 2024. This would push fossil fuel use – and emissions – into an extended period of structural decline.

Continue reading the full analysis on Carbon Brief.

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