China’s CO2 emissions fell for the first time in the third quarter as the country reopened from a Covid-19 lockdown, showed research published on Thursday that experts said could be a carbon “turning point” for the country.
But the threat of an economic slowdown could soon prompt officials to turn to infrastructure stimulus measures, raising emissions again, the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) has warned.
The world’s second-largest economy has vowed to maximize emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 – but officials have struggled to wean the country off its reliance on fossil fuels.
China’s emissions fell dramatically in early 2020 due to widespread quarantines aimed at curbing the coronavirus, then exceeded 2019’s monthly levels as cities and factories reopened.
But in the third quarter of this year, the country reported a 0.5 percent year-on-year decline in emissions from fossil fuels and cement – the first quarter drop since a post-lockdown rebound, CREA analyst Laurie Milevierta found.
Myllyvirta said the drop was caused by a construction slowdown, when Beijing rationed electricity across the country due to speculation and debt in the real estate sector, as well as high coal prices.
“The decline in emissions could mark a turning point and an early peak in China’s total emissions, which is several years ahead of its target by 2030,” Milevirta said in its report.
But he warned that “if the Chinese government injects more manufacturing incentives to boost its economy, emissions could rebound once again before reaching a peak at the end of this decade.”
While the coal crisis was “caused by the ballooning of coal consumption and price control policies”, the perception within the country that the transition to clean energy was to blame could make Beijing hesitant to strengthen climate goals unless coal The crisis is not completely resolved, Milevierta said.
The recent COP26 climate summit spotlighted China’s climate commitments, with critics accusing the world’s biggest polluter of not being ambitious enough in its emissions targets.
The communist leadership also faces domestic pressure to stave off an economic downturn, making officials reluctant to ease specific emissions-cutting measures.
Earlier this month, parts of the country’s north saw heavy pollution after China said it had increased daily coal production by more than one million tonnes to ease energy shortages.
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