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Growing CO2 emissions leave China at risk of failing to meet climate targets | Climate crisis

Growing CO2 emissions leave China at risk of failing to meet climate targets |  Climate crisis


China is behind schedule on all of its key climate targets for 2025, despite the fact that clean energy is now the main driver of the country's economic growth, an analysis shows.

After years of extraordinarily rapid growth, China is now grappling with a slowdown that is having domestic and international repercussions. The government has boosted growth in the renewable energy sector, but it has simultaneously invested stimulus funds in construction and manufacturing, and continues to endorse coal power.

China's total energy consumption increased by 5.7% in 2023, the first time since 2005 that energy demand grew faster than GDP. China's economy grew 5.2 percent last year, a pace that would be fast for most countries but slow compared with previous growth rates.

But carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise, even as economic growth has slowed as China's economic growth during and after the Covid-19 pandemic has been very energy-intensive. Between 2021 and 2023, CO2 emissions increased by an average of 3.8% per year, compared to 0.9% per year between 2016 and 2020. GDP growth slowed slightly over the same period.

The findings were published in a Carbon Brief analysis led by Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

Under the Paris Agreement, China's climate commitments require a number of targets to be met by 2025; these include increasing the share of non-fossil energy sources to 20% and reducing the carbon intensity of the economy by 18%. Carbon intensity refers to the number of grams of CO2 are released to produce one kilowatt hour of electricity.

However, Myllyvirtas' analysis found that China was far from on track to meet many of these targets, mainly due to the carbon intensity of recent economic growth. CO2 emissions will need to fall between 4% and 6% to reach the government's 2025 target, Myllyvirta predicts.

Chart showing the amount of reduction of China's CO2 emissions to meet 2025 carbon intensity targets

Part of the problem is that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government supported the economy by injecting stimulus into the construction and manufacturing sector, thereby shifting the growth model towards a more carbon-intensive direction, Myllyvirta said. At the same time, many other countries have targeted their stimulus measures at households, increasing demand for consumer goods, leading to a boom in Chinese exports.

It's not impossible, Myllyvirta said: with some optimism, these distortions in the economic structure before and during the zero-Covid period could be reversed, and this, combined with clean energy dynamics, could help to rapidly reduce emissions.

About one percentage point of Chinese CO2 Growth in emissions last year came from the manufacturing of clean energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaics, electric vehicles and batteries. These products will ultimately lead to a net reduction in emissions, although some of this reduction will be felt outside China as the goods are exported.

Part of the challenge in understanding China's energy transition is that the numbers involved in each sector have global significance. Even though in 2023 China put into operation as much solar photovoltaic power as the entire world in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency, the rapid growth in energy demand in recent years has exceeded the clean energy additions.

Given the current trend of increasing energy demand, energy production from non-fossil sources is expected to grow by more than 11% per year to reach the 2025 target. Currently, energy production renewable increases at an annual rate of 8.5%. Clean energy contributed $1.6 trillion (1.26 trillion) to China's economy in 2023, accounting for all of the investment growth.

And regarding the goal of reducing the carbon intensity of the Chinese economy by 18% by 2025, China has so far only managed a 5% reduction since 2020. This means that CO2 emissions will have to decrease in absolute terms from 2023 to 2025 to reach the target.

Chart showing China's annual carbon intensity reduction

According to the National Energy Administration, China's installed renewable energy capacity exceeded 1.45 billion kilowatts in 2023, accounting for more than half of the country's total installed power generation capacity. .

But a separate report released Thursday by CREA reveals that China has approved 114 gigawatts (GW) of coal power in 2023, up from 104 GW in 2022. share of global coal emissions exceeded 64% in 2023.

Since Xi Jinping, China's leader, pledged to strictly control new coal-fired power plants in 2021, the approval of new coal-fired power plants has actually increased rapidly. Nearly half of the growth in electricity generation between 2020 and 2023 came from coal. This is partly because some thermal power developers and government officials see this decade as a window of opportunity in which CO2 emissions can continue to rise before 2030, when Xi has promised they will peak. However, China should largely achieve this goal by 2025.

Local governments, especially mining provinces, often rely on investments in coal mines and thermal energy sources to increase their GDP figures.

Myllyvirta said: The sharp acceleration in coal consumption growth and approvals of new coal-fired power plants that has occurred since President Xi made these commitments in 2021 contradicts the commitments and China must take determined action in 2024-25 to avoid not respecting them. .




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