Is There Actually Good News on Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Is There Actually Good News on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Coming Out of China?

One of the biggest hindrances to staving off global climate change is getting the world’s biggest emitters to agree to take action. China is the world’s second biggest emitter due to its dependance on dirty coal and the astonishing double digit industrial growth that the nation has experienced in the past three decades. But a new report shows that China’s greenhouse gas emissions may be tapering off much sooner than suspected.

We hardly ever get any good news when it comes to global climate change but a new report from the London School of Economics found that China may be headed in a positive direction. Due to a reduced dependence on coal and increasing use of natural gas and clean energy, China’s greenhouse gas emissions will level off five years earlier than first thought, according to a report.

According to the report:

[C]oal consumption fell in 2014, and fell further in the first quarter of 2015. Analysing trends in the key emitting sectors, we conclude that China’s GHG emissions are unlikely to peak as late as 2030 — the upper limit set by President Xi Jinping in November 2014 — and are much more likely to peak by 2025. They could peak even earlier than that. With a comprehensive approach to reform, they could also fall rapidly post-peak. China’s transformation has profound implications for the global economy, and greatly increases the prospects for keeping global GHG emissions within relatively safe limits.

This means that temperature increases would average 2 degrees globally, which is still within safe limits and avoids the most damaging impacts of global climate change.

“Whether the world can get onto that pathway in the decade or more after 2020 depends in significant part on China’s ability to reduce its emissions at a rapid rate, post-peak,” write Nicholas Stern and Fergus Green, the authors of the new LES report, reported on Grist. Stern was also the author of the U.K.’s landmark “Stern Review” on climate economics.

China’s coal consumption grew by nearly 10 percent a year between 2000 to 2010, but last year it was reduced by 3 percent, which is a major step in the right direction in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. But the news is not all good because while China is filling in some gaps with clean energy, it is also increasingly dependent on natural gas. At the same time, China’s natural gas use will increase by 5-10 percent in the coming years. What’s more, oil consumption in the transportation sector is still on the rise.

Additionally, according to the report, China should take other steps to taper off its emissions including planning more compact, high density cities with more public transportation and reduced use of automobiles as well as phasing out coal-fired power plants completely in the coming years. But nonetheless, this is some good news in the face of a warming planet.

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Image of a coal-fired power plant from Shuttershock