SHANGHAI: China's emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions rose 9 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 compared with pre-pandemic levels, driven by a carbon-intensive economic recovery and big hikes in steel and cement output, research showed on Thursday (May 20).
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 Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst with the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
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 around 70 per cent of the CO2 surge in the first quarter was due to increased consumption of coal, he 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.
Earlier this month, a study by the Rhodium Group think-tank showed 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.
CREA's 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", Myllyvirta added - and that was more than a century ago when renewables were mostly unavailable.
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 5-10 per cent by 2025, Myllyvirta estimated.