This post updates a previous fact sheet in order to include information on prospects for a peak in China’s carbon dioxide emissions. [See third question.]
Q: Is it true that China is not doing anything to address climate change? A: No, it is not true. China is taking action on multiple fronts to address the climate problem.
Q: Is it true that China’s coal use and greenhouse gas emissions are inevitably going to continue to rise throughout the 21st century regardless of what China tries to do? A: No. China’s carbon emissions and coal use rose significantly in the 2000s, but have begun slowing down in recent years.
Q:What are the signs that China’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak?
Q: Does it make sense for the U.S. to take climate action given what we know about China’s next steps on climate? A: Yes. China is now at a turning point regarding air quality and climate action.
China has been experimenting with many different policies to control carbon and energy intensity
By updating building codes to international best practices, China could save in 20 years an equivalent of the amount of CO2 that would be emitted by 15 large coal fired power plants over 20 years.
If China continues to improve fuel efficiency standards at its current rate, it will save the equivalent of the amount of CO2 that would be emitted by 10 large coal fired power plants over 20 years.
By expanding from pilots to a national level policy, the use of environmental priorities in selecting what electricity sources to use to respond to increased demand could significantly reduce coal use in the power sector.
Currently, China gets about 9%
of its total primary energy from
non-fossil sources. Official
targets aim to increase the
share of primary energy from
non-fossil sources to at least
11.4% in 2015 and 15% in 2020.
Hydropower: China currently
has the largest hydropower
capacity in the world, with about
229 gigawatts (GW) currently,
and a target of 290 GW for 2015.
Wind Power: China ranks 1st
in the world in installed wind
power capacity, with about 89
GW. China is also the world’s
fastest-growing installer of wind,
and it aims to have 100 GW of
wind installed by 2015.
Solar: China is also attempting
to dramatically scale up solar
power, planning to have at least
35 GW of installed solar by 2015,
and currently has around 19 GW
Investment: China was
the number one investor in
renewable energy in 2013,
accounting for nearly a fifth of
A U.S.-Chinese team led by the Harvard China Project has developed a comprehensive framework for evaluating the economic and environmental costs and benefits of national policies to control air pollution and CO2 emissions in China.
Contrary to some perceptions of Chinese inaction on air pollution, China’s SO2 control policy of 2006-2010 may have been one of the most swiftly successful air pollution policies on record judged by key criteria: sulfur emissions fell sharply and prevented as many as 74,000 premature deaths from fine particle (PM2.5) air pollution in 2010 alone, all at little economic cost.
Looking to the future, a modest tax on carbon dioxide, starting small and rising to about $6.50 per ton in 2020 (in 2007 dollars), could lead to a 19% reduction in China’s CO2 emissions in 2020 compared to a scenario with no tax, with little effect on GDP growth and consumption over the long run.
Such a carbon tax would also deliver powerful ancillary benefits: reduced concentrations of an array of domestic air pollutants and prevention of as many as 89,000 premature deaths a year by 2020.
CAIT is WRI’s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool – an information and analysis tool on global climate change. It provides a comprehensive and comparable database of greenhouse gas emissions data (including all major sources and sinks) and other relevant indicators. CAIT can be used to analyze data questions and to support policy decisions made under the UNFCCC and other fora.