Holy smokes! Did China's CO2 emissions actually just fall?

China CO2 emissions drop chart
© Greenpeace Energy Desk

Earlier this year, many of us who follow such things were astounded by news that global CO2 emissions might have actually stalled last year.

Now comes news via the Greenpeace Energy Desk that Chinese carbon emissions may have fallen 5% in the first four months of this year.

If true, this is very big news indeed. In fact, a drop of that magnitude would—according to Greenpeace—be the equivalent of the UK's entire emissions output.

I'm not sure many of us saw this coming. While there's been plenty of evidence that China is ramping up an impressive commitment to clean tech and a lower carbon future, the much heralded China US climate pact of last year had Chinese CO2 emissions peaking around 2030. (As critics of the deal never tired of reminding us.)

As with any such short-term trends, caution is needed here. A drop of emissions in one financial quarter is hardly the same thing as a long-term change in trajectory. Similarly, many have voiced skepticism about the reliability of official Chinese data (from which the Greenpeace report is culled). And then there's the fact that a good chunk of the decline can be attributed to a slowing of the Chinese economy.

Still, with both an apparent viral grassroots response to pollution underway and an unprecedented drop in Chinese coal use, production and imports becoming increasingly evident, it seems likely that this trend is more than just hot air. (Sorry!) Indeed, among the details of the Greenpeace report are that Chinese coal output was down 7% in April compared to just a year earlier.

With international corporations like Apple launching a massive push for solar (and sustainable forestry) in China, the Wall Street Journal reporting that Chinese energy reforms could spell even more trouble for coal, and Tesla announcing potentially game-changing energy storage that could transform the energy landscape, we can be cautiously optimistic that there may be a real energy/emissions transition underway.

As Mike noted in his post about the global CO2 stall, however, now is not the time to let up. Reducing emissions just means that the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere will be slower. We need to get serious about both a rapid decline in emissions and restoring our ecosystems to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere.

Luckily, there are signs that better soil management could significantly reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and countries ranging from Ethiopia to Pakistan are taking significant steps to re-green their landscapes.

It's time to get to work.

Holy smokes! Did China's CO2 emissions actually just fall?
Chinese coal use and CO2 emissions were down in the first four months of 2015, a new report from Greenpeace suggests.

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