(The author is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed
are his own.)
By Gerard Wynn
LONDON, July 1 The relentless growth in China's
carbon emissions looks to have peaked and started to slow, in
part simply because of a cooling economy but also the result of
new targets to curb pollution and climate change.
China alone emitted more than a quarter of global carbon
dioxide last year, and in the past decade has accounted for
two-thirds of the net annual growth in global emissions.
Scientists says that has strained the earth's climate.
It has also intensified local pollution levels because most
CO2 is from burning coal which produces soot and smoke.
The world's top carbon emitter will miss goals which would
directly and indirectly curb carbon under its latest five-year
plan, spanning 2011-2015, given that it is already halfway
through the period and lagging far behind.
Some targets were symbolic, such as to slow economic growth
to an average 7 percent per year over the 2011-2015 period.
But the fact that China is behind partly reflects the plan's
ambition and intent, which suggest a long-term downward trend.
A slowdown in emissions growth has implications for global
climate change and for China's coal consumption, since these
have long moved together in lock-step.
There are two sets of targets in China's five-year plan
which require slower CO2 growth.
First, the plan aims for the country's economic expansion to
be slowed, and for a cut in the amount of carbon emissions per
unit of GDP (called carbon intensity).
The targets for 2011-2015 were for average annual economic
growth of 7 percent; annual falls in carbon intensity of 3.7
percent (a 17 percent cut in 2015 vs 2010); implying annual CO2
emissions growth of 3.1 percent.
The corresponding, average annual figures so far from
2011-12 have been for economic growth of 8.5 percent; a fall in
carbon intensity of 0.7 percent; and carbon emissions growth of
Second, the plan calls for a cap on energy consumption in
2015, involving slower energy demand growth, which has generally
The energy cap was only confirmed this year and implied
average annual growth in energy consumption from 2012-2015 of
Actual growth in 2012 was 7.7 percent.
So China is far behind both goals with only two and a half
years remaining, meaning the current targets are unlikely to be
met in 2015 - and if they were, annual growth in CO2 emissions
and coal consumption would have to slow to around 0.2 percent.
Chart 1: link.reuters.com/neq39t
Chart 2: link.reuters.com/peq39t
Chart 3: link.reuters.com/req39t
But the targets do show intent.
Coupled with recent trends, the impression is that China has
turned the corner in carbon emissions growth, and by implication
growth in coal consumption, the biggest contributor to CO2.
Carbon intensity has fallen year on year since 2004, carbon
emissions and GDP data from BP and the World Bank show (see
That follows the country's official target to cut the carbon
intensity of the economy by 40-45 percent by 2020 compared with
2005 levels, which China pledged under an international climate
treaty four years ago.
And annual growth in GDP, carbon emissions and energy
consumption have fallen year on year since 2010 (see chart 2).
Of course two years is too short to represent a full trend,
but the country's longer-term targets, including carbon
intensity, plus the heightened focus on air pollution suggest
China cannot return to former growth in coal and CO2.
If China misses these current five-year plan targets, what
is a more realistic outcome?
The market expects economic growth this year of 6.5-7.5
percent, compared with 7.8 percent last year.
As Beijing said last week it can maintain a future growth of
7 percent, that can be assumed as the new norm.
Regarding carbon intensity, it seems reasonable to expect
China to return to steeper annual falls of 3.5 percent, as seen
in recent years; as only that would bring the country back into
line with its 2020 international pledge.
That would see emissions growth fall to 3.3 percent
annually, and a total of around 10.2 billion tonnes of CO2
emitted in 2015 - a very optimistic but just about achievable
scenario (see chart 3) - meaning China's emissions could peak by
the end of the decade.
Given the country's outsize contribution to global CO2, that
in turn could put the world on track to deal with climate
change, but only with the most optimistic reading of climate
science, and assuming ambitious carbon cuts by other countries.
(Editing by David Evans)