China Is On Track To Beat Its Peak-Emissions Pledge

A new study led by Haikun Wang, Xi Lu, and Yu Deng examines the relationship between economic growth and emissions to project that China’s should peak in the early 2020s. Ars Technica reports: The analysis uses data from 50 Chinese cities for a representative sampling of the factors at work across the country. The cities combine to account for about 35% of national emissions, 30% of the population, and 50% of total gross domestic product (GDP). These cities vary widely, from types of industry to affluence to sources of power on the local grid. But the researchers see evidence that these metropolises follow an economic relationship known as the environmental Kuznets curve — emissions per capita stops increasing once a certain GDP per capita is reached. The idea is basically that dirty growth eventually provides the resources to switch to cleaner options.

After adjusting for things like location (whether a city’s electricity is supplied mainly by coal or by nuclear and renewables) and the population density of cities of different sizes, the researchers calculated that emissions reach a peak when per-capita emissions hit about 10 tons of CO2 per year. That happens at an average per-capita GDP of US$21,000. When China signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, it was at an average of about 7.5 tons of CO2 per person per year and a per-capita GDP of $13,500. Based on World Bank economic projections, the researchers calculate China should hit $21,000 — and so peak emissions — between 2021 and 2025. That would equate to peak national emissions of 13-16 billion tons of CO2 per year, compared to emissions of roughly 10 billion tons of CO2 in 2015. (For context, the United States is emitting around 5.5 billion tons of CO2 each year with a little less than a quarter of China’s population.)

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