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China’s Climate Plan

October 27, 2015
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By Paul Homewood 


We all know that China has promised to peak their CO2 emissions by 2030, but they have failed to say at what level.

Instead they pledged to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP. And the reason is very simple, they do not want to restrict their economic growth by being harnessed to a fixed target.

However, there is enough information in their INDC to work out at what level emissions are likely to peak out. First of all, let’s review what their plan says:









We will look at renewables later, but first let us do some calculations on carbon intensity.

The Plan does not make clear whether the effect of forestry changes is incorporated in the intensity target, but the Carbon Tracker website believes it makes little difference anyway.


We can start by looking at GDP figures. From the China Statistical Yearbook, we can work out that GDP (first column) in 2005 was 236027  hundred million yuan, at 2010 prices.





The Yearbook also tells us that there was a real increase in GDP of 7.7% from 2012 to 2013. Provisional data also indicates growth of 7.3% last year, giving GDP in 2014 of 545957 hundred million yuan, again at 2010 constant prices. In other words, GDP last year was 2.31 times as great as in 2005.


According to CDIAC, CO2 emissions, excl LULUCF and other GHG’s, were 2723 MtC in 2013. Based on the year on year increase of 0.9% reported by BP, we can scale this up to 2747 MtC for 2014.

[BP figures only include emissions from consumption of coal, oil and gas, whereas CDIAC also add in cement production, and therefore is a more complete figure]


We can therefore arrive at a carbon dioxide intensity figure for 2014 of 50.31 MtC per trillion yuan. Given that the Chinese claim they have already cut intensity by 33.8% from 2005 levels, we can extrapolate an intensity of 76.00 for 2005, (ie 50.31/0.668).


Obviously, the actual level of emissions in 2030 depends on how fast GDP grows, so I have looked at two scenarios.

The first is based on annual growth rate of 8%, in line with the last four years, but much less than growth in the years leading up to 2010, which I don’t believe will return.

On this assumption, GDP in 2030, at 2010 prices, will more than have tripled to 187.2 trillion yuan.

As the intensity target for 2030 is 40% of 2005 levels, this equates to 30.4 MtC per trillion yuan, giving CO2 emissions of 5690 MtC. This, of course, more than doubles current emissions of 2747 MtC.



The second GDP scenario is a lower growth one, used by the IMF, of 6.6% till 2020, followed by 5.4%. Using this, we get GDP in 2030 of 135.4 trillion yuan, still more than double last year.

Running the same equation, we get CO2 emissions of 4116 MtC, which is an increase of 50% from current levels.


As China currently contributes 28% of global emissions, the two scenarios would add 30% and 14% to current global emissions respectively. Put another way, even the lower scenario would add more then the whole of the EU currently produces in total.





Let’s take a closer look at their promise to increase renewable capacity.


They pledge to increase increase wind and solar capacity to 200 GW and 100 GW respectively. This sounds impressive, but is not.


  Wind Solar
Capacity GW 200 100
Load Factor 16% 11%
Generation TWh 280 96
% of 2014 Generation of
5650 TWh
4.9 1.7


Based on China’s current electricity generation, wind and solar will still only contribute a pitiful 6.6% by 2030. Given that, by then, demand for electricity will probably have doubled, contribution from wind/solar will largely be irrelevant.


We keep being told that how wonderful and cheap renewables are. Clearly the Chinese don’t agree.

  1. Robin Guenier permalink
    October 27, 2015 5:53 pm

    This is an excellent and useful analysis Paul. Thank you.

  2. Chris Savage permalink
    October 28, 2015 6:59 pm


    An excellent analysis. I’ve done a calculation coming at this from another direction, and it comes to a very similar conclusion to yours: China will peak, if at all, at a much higher level than those who are talking up the prospects for an international agreement at Paris would like us to believe.

    As you say, China’s INDC submission does not actually give us a current emissions figure, nor the targeted figure in 2030, just a figure for the reduction in carbon intensity and a statement that emissions will peak in 2030. What matters is what happens between now and then.

    Helpfully, though, the IEA’s assessment of INDCs gives us a current estimate (in 2013) for China’s emissions: 8.7 Gigatonnes of CO2 (your numbers are for carbon only, so we have to adjust this by a factor of 3.67).

    Current China GDP in US$ is approx $9.2 trillion. This gives us a CO2 intensity of 0.95 tonnes/thousand US$ of GDP.

    The Chinese commitment is to reduce carbon intensity in 2030 by 60% relative to 2005, and they say they’ve already reduced it by 33.8% since then. This implies a further reduction of 40% relative to today’s level, to 0.57 tonnes CO2/thousand US$ of GDP.

    Taking the IMF projections you quote, this gives us GDP in 2030 of $20.4 trillion in current prices. An alternative is the OECD projection (8.9% real growth to 2018 and then 5.5% to 2030), which gives us GDP in 2030 somewhat higher at $24.1 trillion.

    If the Chinese achieve their target CO2 intensity, this implies a level of CO2 emissions of 13.7 Gigatonnes (on the IMF projection) or 14.8 Gigatonnes (OECD projection), increases of 57% over the current level and 69% respectively.

    So quite close to your estimate, higher in fact.

    It is though, in stark contrast to the rather upbeat assessment of China’s INDC by the IEA, which has their emissions more or less flatlining in the 2020s (annual growth of emissions falls from 6.2% currently to 1.45% by 2020 and then to 0.55% by 2025 and 0.24% by 2030), and reaching just 10.1 Gt CO2 in 2030.

    My calculations above suggest that China’s emissions will 36% higher than claimed by the IEA (on the IMF GDP forecast, and 46% higher on the oECD forecast).

    The China INDC is particularly important to the IEA’s story on COP21 both because of its size and because reductions in emissions from the USA and Europe are more or less offset by continued growth from the rest of the world. If China reaches a higher level by 2030 this knocks out the IEA’s (and other’s) narrative that COP21 will be a success.


  1. The Daily Int Rep | Global Warming Summit in Paris: China makes a mockery of the whole process.

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