China's CO2 emissions in Q1 higher than pre-pandemic levels: Research

A coal-fired power plant in Harbin. In the 12 months since China began relaxing Covid-19 lockdowns, total CO2 emissions exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 7 per cent, according to the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. PHOTO: RE
A coal-fired power plant in Harbin. In the 12 months since China began relaxing Covid-19 lockdowns, total CO2 emissions exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 7 per cent, according to the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI • China's climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions rose 9 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with pre-pandemic levels, driven by a carbon-intensive economic recovery and big hikes in steel and cement output, research showed on Thursday.

In the 12 months since China began relaxing Covid-19 lockdowns, total CO2 emissions exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 7 per cent, setting the fastest rate of growth since 2012, said Mr Lauri Mylly-virta, lead analyst with the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

China has won praise for massively increasing its renewable energy capacity and for setting targets to bring carbon emissions to a peak by 2030 and become "carbon-neutral" by 2060.

But about 70 per cent of the CO2 surge in the first quarter was due to increased coal consumption, Mr Myllyvirta said. Chinese coal production rose 16 per cent year on year in the first three months.

China has vowed to cut coal consumption, its biggest source of carbon emissions, but only after 2025.

A study by the Rhodium Group think-tank showed this month that China's total 2019 greenhouse gas emissions exceeded those from the whole of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the first time. Per capita emissions were also close to OECD levels.

Mr Myllyvirta said China's per capita emissions have almost certainly exceeded the OECD average this year. Only Britain and the United States had registered levels comparable with "the extreme carbon intensity of China's economic model" - and that was over a century ago, he added.

As a developing country with lower historical greenhouse gas levels, China is not yet obliged to make absolute cuts in carbon emissions and its five-year plan targets suggest they could rise another 5 to 10 per cent by 2025, said Mr Myllyvirta.

Meanwhile, China will start taxing imports of dirty fuels used to make lucrative but lower quality products from next month, citing pollution concerns and the need to promote fairness in the sector.

Imports of products such as light-cycle oil - a low-quality fuel that is blended into diesel or fuel oil - will be subject to the consumption tax from June 12, said the Ministry of Finance.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2021, with the headline 'China's CO2 emissions in Q1 higher than pre-pandemic levels: Research'. Subscribe