China is the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, the heat-trapping pollution that is causing global warming. Climate scientists have predicted that China's carbon emissions will continue to rise in the next decades but a new study says that these emissions may have already peaked in 2014 and could now begin a steady decline.

In the study from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economic, the researchers said that as China finalizes its 13th Five Year Plan for economic development for 2016 to 2020, and due to negotiations from the Paris Agreement held on December 2015, the country is moving toward a new development mode, focused on better quality growth.

It may seem an ambitious set of targets especially for China, which surpassed the United States as the world's leading carbon dioxide emitter in 2007, but economists think that China has achieved the goal even before the agreement was made in Paris.

"We basically focused on trends in China's economy generally, which affect energy demand and trends in energy supply, and used that to come up with a forecast of the trajectory of China's carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector over the coming decade," said Fergus Green, a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Key Findings

"It is quite possible that emissions will fall modestly from now on, implying that 2014 was the peak," the researchers said. "If emissions do grow above 2014 levels, that growth trajectory is likely to be relatively flat, and a peak would still be highly likely by 2025."

The study cited that if carbon emissions from energy would grow, they are likely to increase much slower than under the old economic model and will possibly peak at some point in the decade before 2025.

"Better global understanding of the extent and pace of change occurring in China should spur a reassessment of likely future global emissions, trends in the relative prices of commodities and technologies affected by structural change in China, and market opportunities for low-/zero-carbon technologies and services," the researchers concluded [pdf].

2030 Estimate Based On National Conditions

China pledged to bring its greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by 2030 as part of its participation in the Paris Agreement. Xie Zhenhua, the climate change representative of China said that emissions from the country have not peaked in 2014 and in fact, it is still increasing.

Xie Zhenhua and Xi Fengming, a carbon researcher with the China Academy of Sciences attributed the decline in emissions last year to an economic slowdown rather than an emissions peak.

"I would like to believe that the peak will be around 2030, and if stricter policies for carbon reduction and some reforms in the way local leaders are evaluated on GDP growth, the peak will come in 2025," said Fengming, noting that he doesn't think China's gas emission peak was reached in 2014.

Photo: Dean Hochman | Flickr 

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