China's greenhouse gas emissions have been in decline since last year but could still be some way from their peak, with the country's policies still not fully aligned with long-term goals to limit temperature increases, a survey of Chinese experts said on Nov. 21.
China produces nearly a third of the world's annual carbon emissions, and its success in meeting its climate targets "is possibly the single most important factor in the global fight against climate change," said the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) after assessing emissions data and surveying 26 Chinese energy experts.
While China had made "remarkable achievements" in areas like clean energy and electric vehicles, the report said it remained "off track" in coal-fired power, iron and steel. Energy consumption, driven by heavy industrial economic growth, was still growing too fast to meet climate goals.
Global climate talks ended on Nov. 20 with a commitment to establish a fund to help the most vulnerable nations, but countries failed to reach a consensus on bringing global emissions to a peak by 2025.
China is expected to meet its own 2030 peak emissions target with relative ease, but experts worry the overall volume could still rise significantly over the decade as Beijing builds new coal plants and other carbon-intensive infrastructure to address concerns about energy security and economic stability.
The higher the peak, the harder it will be for Beijing to meet its 2060 goal to become carbon neutral, CREA said, adding that it was "crucially important" for China not just to meet but to significantly exceed targets.
While most of the experts surveyed were skeptical that China's emissions had now peaked, CREA lead analyst Lauri Myllyvirta said there was still a possibility that new energy demand could all be met by low-carbon energy sources.
"It's a very real possibility that the peak has been passed," he said during a briefing on Nov. 21. "Everything really depends on whether electricity demand grows at more or less than 4%."
This month, an annual report by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) estimated that China's emissions would fall by 0.9% in 2022, raising hopes that they have already peaked.
However, the decline was attributed to the country's draconian zero-COVID policies, which severely disrupted the economy and saw the financial center of Shanghai locked down for more than two months.
"They will go up," said Pep Canadell, GCP's Executive Director and one of the authors of the report. "Over the coming years we will see growth [in emissions] coming from China before we see stabilization and eventually decline."
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