Analysis: Monthly drop hints that China’s CO2 emissions may have peaked in 2023

China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fell by 3% in March 2024, ending a 14-month surge that began when the economy reopened after the nation’s “zero-Covid” controls were lifted in December 2022.

New analysis for Carbon Brief, based on official figures and commercial data, reinforces the view that China’s emissions could have peaked in 2023.

The drivers of the CO2 drop in March 2024 were expanding solar and wind generation, which covered 90% of the growth in electricity demand, as well as declining construction activity.

Oil demand growth also ground to a halt, indicating that the post-Covid rebound may have run its course.

A 2023 peak in China’s CO2 emissions is possible if the buildout of clean energy sources is kept at the record levels seen last year.

However, there are divergent views across the industry and government on the outlook for clean energy growth. How this gap gets resolved is the key determinant of when China’s emissions will peak – if they have not done so already.

Other key findings from the analysis include:

  • Wind and solar growth pushed fossil fuels’ share of electricity generation in China down to 63.6% in March 2024, from 67.4% a year earlier, despite strong growth in demand.
  • The ongoing contraction of real-estate construction activity in China saw steel production fall by 8% and cement output by 22% in March 2024.
  • Electric vehicles (EVs) now make up around one-in-10 vehicles on China’s roads, knocking around 3.5 percentage points off the growth in petrol demand.
  • Some 45% of last year’s record solar additions were smaller-scale “distributed” systems, creating an illusory “missing data problem”. 

Read the full analysis in Carbon Brief here.