Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions In China

Right now, China followed by the US emit the most greenhouse gases annually of all countries in the world.

This guide provides an outline of greenhouse gas emissions in China, where we look at the past, present and future of emissions.

 

Summary – Greenhouse Gas Emissions In China

A summary of China’s greenhouse gas emissions picture for the country might be:

Cumulative Emissions

Right now, the US leads the world in cumulative CO2 emissions throughout history, with China in second

 

Annual Emissions

China currently leads the world for annual CO2 emissions.

On latest figures, China was responsible for about 27.6% of total global CO2 emissions in 2017 – roughly double that of the US in second place

 

Per Capita Emissions

Because of the size of the population, China’s per capita CO2 emissions sit at around 7.36 tonnes per person, compared to other countries such as the US at 16.44, and Australia at 16.5

Countries at the top of the per capita emissions list though are above 20

 

Greenhouse Gas That Is Emitted The Most

Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas emitted in China by far

Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases collectively account for nearly 20 percent of China’s total emissions

China is also responsible for almost 20% of both global Methane and Nitrous Oxide emissions – more than several other major countries combined

 

Energy Sources Responsible For The Most Greenhouse Gases

Coal is the leading emission fuel source in China by a very large margin – coal makes up around 70% of total emissions.

Oil is second.

In terms of just electricity alone (not taking into consideration other energy), thediplomat.com outlines ‘In 2016, the bulk of Chinese electricity was produced by thermal power plants, mainly coal, which accounted for 65 percent … of the country’s total power generation’

 

Which Industries Use The Most Coal?

Mainly industrial, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, construction and power production.

 

China Manufacturers and Uses A lot Of Steel & Cement

Surprisingly, the majority of these materials are used internally, and only a smaller share is exported.

Between steel and cement together, some estimates put them at around 20-21% of total emissions.

 

Industries That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases

– CO2 …

Construction (particularly cement and steel) and transport are outlined as major carbon dioxide emitters in China.

But, it stands to reason that if industrial, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, construction and power production use about 95% of China’s coal consumption, that they are responsible for most of the emissions.

 

– Methane …

The transportation and distribution of energy (like coal mining and gas transport), and agriculture (rice crops/rice cultivation) are the main sectors responsible for Methane emissions.

Read more about the carbon footprint of rice and other foods in this guide.

 

– Nitrous Oxide …

Agriculture is the main industry responsible for nitrous oxide emissions, at over 70% of the total. It comes from mainly agricultural soil management, such as fertilizer, and industrial activities.

 

Household Emissions & The Energy Sources Responsible

Coal, natural gas and LPG are all responsible for household power related emissions in China.

In urban homes, natural gas and LPG make up a greater share.

And, in rural households, coal makes up a greater share.

 

Are Emissions Increasing Or Decreasing?

Since the year 2000, China has seen a huge increase in CO2 emissions and also coal use

In the year 2000, China was at 13.9% of global CO2 emissions, and in the years 2016 and 2017, those numbers increased to 29.2% and 27.6% of global CO2 emissions.

This is in line with industrialization rate, and economic growth

 

Recent Efforts To Decrease Emissions

There are various things China is actively trying, or has stated it’s commitment to try to decrease emissions and coal usage

In addition, China has made pledges to or plans to increase use of natural gas, and increase renewable energy installed capacity and nuclear power capacity. These energy sources are considered cleaner from an emissions perspective compared to coal.

 

Challenges In Transitioning Away From Coal To Decrease Emissions

Read more about the numerous challenges facing China in trying to move away from coal to cleaner energy sources.

 

Future Emissions Forecast

It appears China’s emissions forecast is dependent on how well it can curb coal consumption in the future.

China is already the leading investor in installed capacity of renewable energy in the world, and is one of the leading natural gas users (behind the US and Russia)

Right now, despite investments in other forms of energy, China still consumes as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and in the future, China’s installed capacity of coal is not expected to peak before 2025 (per thediplomat.com)

In addition to this peaking of coal installed capacity, the transition for China from coal to natural gas to renewables still has many hurdles and challenges (despite their installed capacity for renewable energy)

In the short term, China still relies heavily on coal power plants

In the long term, the effectiveness of China’s reforms (plus many other factors) will determine how well they are able to transition over from coal, to renewable and cleaner energy, and this will also determine whether greenhouse gas emissions begin to decrease (along with how and when)

*Note that future forecasts for what a country may do and their future emissions are a guide only and in reality are very hard to get accurate due to the number of variables at play.

Some variables can also have a much larger impact than others – so one variable can change forecasts a lot.

 

Cumulative CO2 Emissions

China sits second in the world behind the US for cumulative emissions over time.

Read this guide for the list of countries by cumulative emissions.

 

Annual CO2 Emissions

China is currently far in front of any other country in terms of annual emissions, and is essentially at double the emissions figure on the second place United States.

Read this guide for the list of countries by annual emissions.

 

Per Capita CO2 Emissions

China is not in the top per capita emissions countries list because of it’s big population size.

For context, China sits at 7.36 tonnes of CO2 per person, whilst Qatar tops the list at 47.83 tonnes per person per year. The US is at 16.44.

Read this guide for the list of countries by per capita emissions.

 

CO2 Emissions By Energy Source

Coal was by far the energy source that emitted the most carbon dioxide in 2016 in China.

 

[The breakdown of China’s CO2 emissions by fuel source in 2016 was]:

Coal – 7.17Gt C02 [Roughly 70% of China’s CO2 emissions come from coal]

Oil – 1.38Gt C02 [Roughly 14%]

Gas – 0.395Gt C02

Cement – 1.2Gt C02

Gas Flaring – 0Gt C02

Coal has constituted an average of 69.9 percent of China’s energy consumption between 1985 and 2016.

As of 2016, China still consumes more coal that the rest of the world combined.

– chinapower.csis.org

 

Which Industries In China Use The Most Coal?

Mainly industrial, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, construction and power production.

 

The industrial sector is China’s primary coal consumer.

Manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and construction collectively made up 67.9 percent of China’s energy use and 54.2 percent of China’s coal use in 2015

Power production activities were responsible for 41.8 percent of coal consumption.

– chinapower.csis.org

 

CO2 Emissions By Sector/Industry

Construction (particularly cement and steel) and transport are outlined as major carbon dioxide emitters in China.

But, it stands to reason that if industrial, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, construction and power production use about 95% of China’s coal consumption, that they are responsible for most of the emissions.

 

Construction-related activities are among the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions – particularly the production of cement and steel

… cement alone accounted for 11 percent of China’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2016 [and steel might be at about 10%]

Motor vehicles represent another major source of emissions in China

– chinapower.csis.org

 

China’s Heavy Manufacturing & Consumption Of Cement & Steel

Surprisingly, China uses most of these materials internally, so most of these materials are not exported. 

 

Between 2011 and 2013, more cement was consumed in China than what was used across the entire US over the course of the 20th century

China manufactures half of the world’s steel

Most of these materials are consumed within China …

– chinapower.csis.org

 

Household CO2 Emissions

Coal, natural gas and LPG are all responsible for household power related emissions.

In urban homes, it’s more natural gas and LPG, and in rural households, it mostly coal.

 

Over 72 percent of the electrical power generated in China in 2015 came from coal-powered plants, making coal a primary contributor to household CO2 emissions

In 2015, urban household CO2 emissions in China predominantly resulted from natural gas (33.2 percent) and liquefied petroleum gas (26.1 percent)

In contrast, coal contributes over 65 percent of China’s rural household emissions

– chinapower.csis.org

 

Other Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Methane & Nitrous Oxide

China is also a notable major methane and nitrous oxide GHG emitter.

Methane comes mainly from the transport and distribution of energy, and agriculture (with rice cultivation being a major contributor)

Nitrous oxide comes mainly from agricultural activity, such as soil management and fertilzer.

 

Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases collectively account for nearly 20 percent of [China’s] total emissions

China was responsible for 18.5 percent of global methane emissions (1.7 billion tons) and 18.5 percent of N2O emissions (537 million tons) in 2016.

[A lot of China’s methane comes from transporting and distributing energy, such as coal mining and gas transport, and also agricultural activities like rice cultivation]

[The agricultural is the primary source of N2O emissions at 73.7 percent of the total]

Nitrous oxide is mainly a consequence of agricultural soil management, such as fertilizer, as well as other industrial activities.

– chinapower.csis.org

 

Recent Emissions Trend In China

China’s annual CO2 emissions have very clearly increased a significant amount over the last few years.

 

[In the year 2000, China was at 13.9% of global CO2 emissions, and in the years 2016 and 2017, those numbers increased to 29.2% and 27.6% of global CO2 emissions]

[In that same time, coal use in Gt has increased from 2.4 to 7.17Gt]

– chinapower.csis.org

 

China’s Recent Efforts To Reduce Coal Consumption & Emissions

The Chinese government has stated it’s intention to, or is actively trying to decrease emissions by:

[Upgrading power plants to be more efficient with coal and indirectly decrease emissions from steel production, introducing CCS, introducing a nationwide emissions trading scheme that puts a price on CO2, having fuel standards for road transport, and having targets for electric vehicles on the road by certain years in the future]

– chinapower.csis.org

 

China’s Transition From Coal, To Other Energy Sources

Some of the energy sources China is expanding or has made pledges or plans to expand include:

– Natural gas use (China is already one of the top natural gas using countries in the world)

– Installed renewable energy capacity

– Nuclear power capacity

Note though that actual use of renewable energy is different to installed capacity, and pledges and plans need to be executed on to become part of energy emissions.

 

China is increasing it’s use of natural gas [and has made pledges to increase installed capacity of renewables, along with planning a 16.5% annual increase of nuclear power capacity up to 2020]

– chinapower.csis.org

 

At present, China leads the world in terms of wind and solar power capacity

As of 2017, renewables were generating 5.3% of China’s electricity supply

– weforum.org

 

China is already the leading investor in renewable energy in the world, planning to invest another $360 billion by 2020

– thediplomat.com

 

China says it will be the world’s biggest investor in renewables and has pledged $400 billion by 2030.

– abc.net.au

 

Note though that installed capacity does not always equate to end electricity use.

Installed renewable energy equipment can have issues with transferring power into the main power grid for various reasons.

Power can also be lost in the transfer process.

 

Challenges For China In Transitioning Away From Coal

Read more about some of the difficulties, complexities and challenges China faces in moving away from coal and towards other energy sources like natural gas, renewables and cleaner energy in the future.

 

Future Forecast For Greenhouse Gas Emissions In China

It appears that China’s future forecast for emissions will largely depend on how much it is able to curb it’s coal usage.

But it’s worth noting that estimates for future greenhouse gas emissions, and particularly carbon dioxide emissions, are estimates only. 

Accurate forecasts are close to impossible due to factors such as future economic activity, price of fossil fuels and other energy sources, what happens in the electricity and transport industries, government policy developments, whether there are improvements in energy efficiency, and so on. 

 

China’s current policy projections (including COVID-19 impacts) to reach GHG emissions levels (excl. LULUCF) of … 12.9–14.7 GtCO2e/year in 2030.

This is an increase in total GHG emissions of … +1% to +15% by 2030

– climateactiontracker.org

 

Read More About Climate Change 

If you’re interested in learning more about the basics of climate change, this guide outlines some of those basic points.

 

Sources

1. https://chinapower.csis.org/china-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

2. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions

3. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/05/china-is-a-renewable-energy-champion-but-its-time-for-a-new-approach/

4. https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/the-stumbling-blocks-to-chinas-green-transition/

5. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-25/china-pledges-to-drastically-cut-fossil-fuels/9500228

6. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data

7. https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Chinas-Coal-To-Gas-Transition-Sputters.html

8. https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/china/current-policy-projections/#:~:text=The%20CAT%20expects%20China’s%20current,to%20%2B15%25%20by%202030.

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