This is a marked slowdown from the first quarter of the year, when emissions grew at their Coronavirus pandemic on a wave of growth in construction, steel and cement production.in more than a decade as the economy bounced back from the
The slowdown includes a 16 per cent fall in demand for diesel year-on-year and 3 per cent drop for oil products overall, with only modest growth of 1 per cent for cement and 3 per cent for coal power. These shifts appear to reflect steps the government has taken to, in the real estate sector, as well as to further rapid increase in steel production.
The analysis is based on official figures for the domestic production, import and export of fossil fuels and cement, as well as commercial data on changes in stocks of stored fuel.
The figures come as China works to flesh out its “” pledges to peak emissions by 2030 and reach “ ” by 2060. Upcoming plans from the central government, this year or early next, include peak emissions strategies for the iron and steel sector, as well as the economy overall, plus an action plan for the energy sector.
At the same time,published by the (CREA) and (GEM) shows that companies in China’s two – power and iron and steel – have continued to announce new investments in coal-based capacity, pointing to a continued mismatch with the country’s emissions goals.
Slowing emissions growth
In the second quarter of 2021, CO2 emissions increased by 1 per cent compared with the same period in 2020 and by 5 per cent compared with the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, the new analysis shows. (See:).
While emissions kept climbing, the growth is a marked slowdown from the first quarter, when emissions were up 9 per cent from 2019 levels and 15 per cent year-on-year.
The slowdown is shown in the chart below, with year-on-year emissions growth in the most recent quarter marked in red and previous quarterly growth shown in blue.
The growth in CO2 emissions in the second quarter was entirely due to the increased use of coal for power generation and increased use of fossil gas across all sectors, as emissions from coal use outside the power sector, from cement manufacturing and oil consumption, stopped growing.
This is shown in the chart, below, where contributions to the emissions growth are broken down by fuel (indicated by different colours) and by sector (rows).
In the second quarter, consumption of thermal coal – used for electricity production, as well as in industrial boilers and to heat buildings – increased by 3 per cent, compared to 20 per cent annual growth in the first quarter of 2021.
The production of coke fell by 1 per cent year-on-year, after increasing 9 per cent in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the consumption of oil products fell 3 per cent in the second quarter, led by diesel, which plummeted 16 per cent, following respective increases of 17 per cent and 12 per cent in the first quarter.
Notably, consumption of fossil gas continued to boom, increasing 25 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2021. Annual growth in, another major source of CO2 emissions, slowed from 47 per cent in the first quarter to just 1 per cent in the second quarter.
Coal demand growth came entirely from the power sector, where electricity demand growth, in turn, was driven by heavy industry, with steel, other metals, cement, glass and chemicals manufacturing responsible for the largest increases.
The most significant turnarounds happened in primary steelmaking, cement production and consumption of diesel, which is mainly used for bulk freight.
These are all intimately linked to the construction sector, which has been affected byby the government to reduce the amount of new credit available, targeting real estate in particular. Furthermore, local governments have been to limit steel production, in line with the target set in late 2020 of limiting 2021 steel output to 2020 levels.
Local governments have been imposing strict output restrictions, which affected steel plant operations during the summer, but a recentto avoid “campaign-style” emission reduction measures was as a rebuke to these curbs. (See Carbon Brief’s recent about this development.)
Additionally, a sharp increase in crude steel production in the first half of the year means production in the second halfby approximately 11 per cent to meet the target.
Thenow is that a new, less restrictive target to limit output will be put in place. A less strict target would still mean putting an end to the roughly 10 per cent growth rate of steel output seen during the past 12 months.
In apparent contrast with theto “resolutely contain high energy-consumption, high-emissions projects”, the power and steel sectors have continued to announce plans for new coal-based power and steel projects in the first half of 2021.
from the (CREA) and (GEM), also published today, tracks announcements in these sectors in 2021 to date.
The analysis found announcements for 18 new blast furnace projects, with a total capacity of 35m tonnes per year, as well as 43 new coal-fired power units, totalling 24 gigawatts (GW). If these projects are approved and built, they would be expected to emit an estimated 150m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) a year, equivalent to theof the Netherlands.
Under China’s, new projects “replace” retiring capacity so total capacity does not increase, but old plants close to retirement are replaced by new equipment.
According to the, the should require 1.5 tonnes of old capacity to be closed down for every tonne of new capacity they authorise, up from 1.25.
In practice, however, the CREA/GEM mapping found that the ratio was around 0.9-1.1 tonnes closed for every tonne permitted in all the provinces, including in 2020–21, meaning little-to-no net reduction in capacity to date. There is also aof illegally operating and illegally built capacity.
The steel industry’semissions targets would mean a substantial fall in the demand for produced in blast furnaces over this decade.
This means replacing retiring blast furnaces with new ones on a nearly 1:1 basis risks creating overcapacity, with the operators of new facilities facing financial distress if they are unable to run their factories at expected output.
This could then put pressure on the government to slow down the transition, or even institute a new round of domestic stimulus to support heavy industry.
In the power sector, however, there are signs of a shift in the mix of new capacity being built. Major power firmsthat 91 per cent of their new generation investments went into non-fossil capacity early in the year.
The solar industry investments and installations to recover from a , leading to around 60GW of capacity installed this year. Solar panel manufacturing has been surging, posting a in the first half of the year, lending credence to the forecast.
If the expectations can be met, the second half of the year would see the mix of added power capacity align better with the country’s climate goals – as well as ato install 90GW of wind and solar during 2021.
China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhuathat the top-level design for the country’s climate effort will be released soon and described the key features.
Besides the headline emissions targets for 2030 and 2060, the plan will include: targets and plans for increasing clean energy and reducing fossil energy and coal; industrial optimisation and upgrading; energy-saving and low-carbon buildings;; and resource efficiency; technological innovation; green finance; fiscal, taxation, pricing and other enabling economic policies; improving the carbon market; and implementing .
The scale of the challenge is illustrated by the chart below, which shows that annualised emissions across the Chinese economy have continued to steadily increase in recent years – albeit with a levelling off in the second quarter of 2021.
Some of the sector-specific plans are also becoming clearer, with the steel sectortargeting an emissions peak before 2025 and a 30 per cent reduction from peak by 2030. As one of the high-emission sectors, the power industry to peak its emissions ahead of the national peak, which is targeted before 2030, but the about a specific date is still ongoing.
Aon reducing carbon emissions has sent mixed messages, receiving divergent interpretations over what it means for China’s level of ambition.
The directive called on one hand for “resolutely containing” high-energy, high-emissions projects, and on the other hand warned against “campaign-style” measures to reduce emissions, while urging the government to issue a CO2 peaking action plan as soon as possible.
The purpose could be interpreted as a directive to avoid overly heavy-handed interventions in steel production, electricity consumption and so on, in the name of cutting emissions, in favour of a more carefully planned transition.
However, the directive also told party officials to “establish before breaking”, indicating, according to, that now is the time to build clean infrastructure rather than curbing high-emitting activities.
In response to the directive, state media and experts have“unrealistic pledges” and that reaching carbon neutrality is a “long-term task”.
These statements have beenin some quarters as the country’s leadership “softening its tone on climate ambition”. Others and emphasise that they signal an end to ad-hoc responses in favour of the introduction of strict, top-level planning to meet the targets.
Ultimately, the directivea signal that the pace of China’s low-carbon transition will be controlled by the central government alone.
Data for the analysis was compiled from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, National Energy Administration of China, China Electricity Council and China Customs official data releases, and from WIND Information, an industry data provider.
When data was available from multiple sources, different sources were cross-referenced and official sources used when possible, adjusting data from WIND Information to match.
CO2 emissions estimates are based on National Bureau of Statistics default calorific values of fuels and IPCC default emissions factors. Cement CO2 emissions factor is based on.
For oil consumption, only data on oil products consumption was available so crude oil consumption is estimated from production and imports.
When official releases did not provide changes from 2019 to 2021, these are calculated from the linked release and previous iterations of the same regular release, although only the latest one is linked to.
This story was published with permission from
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