BEIJING • China's carbon emissions, by far the world's highest, may have peaked in 2014, according to a study published yesterday, potentially putting Beijing under pressure to toughen climate pledges perceived as too lax.
China vowed to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by "around 2030" as part of commitments to a global deal to fight global warming, signed in Paris last year. Any evidence of a much earlier peak could lead to concerns that China's current targets are too low.
In response to the report, China's senior climate change envoy said yesterday that the country's emissions were still growing.
The study, however, by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics, said the 2030 peak was a very conservative estimate.
"It is quite possible that emissions will fall modestly from now on, implying that 2014 was the peak," said the report, noting that recent data already showed that China's emissions fell last year.
"If emissions do grow above 2014 levels... that growth trajectory is likely to be relatively flat, and a peak would still be highly likely by 2025," the authors said.
At a press briefing yesterday, climate change envoy Xie Zhenhua said the target of "around 2030" was based on national conditions, with China still in the process of industrialisation and urbanisation.
He said: "You asked whether our emissions had peaked in 2014 - certainly not. In fact, our carbon dioxide emissions are still increasing."
While total energy consumption rose 0.9 per cent to 4.3 billion tonnes of standard coal last year, coal consumption fell 2.2 per cent on a year earlier, showed Reuters calculations based on official data.
Chinese carbon experts said any fall in emissions last year would be mainly due to a slowdown in China's economy, and it was unlikely emissions had peaked so early.
"I would like to believe that the peak will be around 2030, and if (there are) stricter policies for carbon reduction and some reforms in the way local leaders are evaluated on GDP growth, the peak will come in 2025," said Mr Xi Fengming, a carbon researcher with the China Academy of Sciences.
"But I do not think China has reached peak emissions in 2014."
The government said last Saturday it would cap total energy consumption at five billion tonnes of standard coal by 2020, amounting to a 16.3 per cent rise from last year. It said it would cut carbon intensity - the amount of CO2 emissions per unit of economic growth - by 18 per cent in the 2016-2020 period.
The 2030 pledge was made in a joint declaration with the United States in 2014. China said it would make its best effort to peak earlier.
A main bone of contention at the Paris talks was a regular five-year "stocktaking" process to compel countries to adjust targets in light of new economic or technological circumstances, with China arguing any changes must be voluntary.
US climate change envoy Todd Stern said in Beijing last week that China could come under pressure to draw up tougher targets if it was clear existing goals were too easy.
"It will be up to the Chinese government whether they increase their target but there will obviously be a lot of international opinion looking forward to additional measures - whether it is China or anyone else," he said.