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Is China About to Hit Its Carbon Output Goals 12 Years Ahead of Schedule?

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China — the world’s biggest polluter, and notorious smog culprit — is way ahead of the curve all of a sudden, hitting its 2030 goals for the Paris climate accord 12 years early, at least according to a new report in Nature Geoscience:

As part of the Paris Agreement, China pledged to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030. In retrospect, the commitment may have been fulfilled as it was being made—China’s emissions peaked in 2013 at a level of 9.53 gigatons of CO2, and have declined in each year from 2014 to 2016.

Naturally, there’s a “but”: “the prospect of maintaining the continuance of these reductions depends on the relative contributions of different changes in China,” says an excerpt from the paper. The positive outlook is also tempered somewhat by China Dialogue‘s assertion from earlier this month that, “satellite imagery reveals that many coal-fired power projects that were halted by the Chinese government have quietly restarted.” Some point to the US-China trade war as a factor in the recent rise in coal consumption — when GDP takes a hit, the government might look to make up for it by pumping more into easy short-term wins like coal.

Nevertheless, there are reasons for (cautious) optimism. China’s massive carbon output, smoggy living conditions, and penchant for coal consumption are well-documented and condemned worldwide — and China hates that. They’ve been driving forward at breakneck speeds in their efforts to change it. Huge investments in wind and solar energy have made the technology cheaper worldwide. Factories started getting major State attention, and, when found to be emitting output above regulation levels, seeing consequences. When manufacturers’ bottom line is on the line, that’s no longer a line to cross.

More importantly, Chinese citizens’ rising prosperity has reduced the demand for carbon-heavy industry, and companies looking for cheap manufacturing are more and more likely to take their business to the developing economies of South and Southeast Asia. As Trump pulls further away from the United States’ commitment to the Paris climate accord, China’s hard stance on carbon is both motivating and crucially important.

Related:

Meet the Scientist Who May Have Unexpectedly Solved China’s Smog Problem

Dr. Wayne Song, leader of China’s team in the international NRG Cosia Carbon Prize competition, points out that it might not be as simple as the Nature Geoscience report makes it out to be.

“While Western countries measure their progress in terms of total CO2 emission, China is measuring relative to GDP growth,” he explained. “China’s measurements refer to the reduction rate of CO2 emission per 10,000 RMB GDP. So they’re targeting diferently, and there are many more factors to consider when gauging the sustainability of China’s carbon output. No peak of CO2 emission has reached yet in China.”

Cover Photo: Wandering Suvlaki

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip-hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers.

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