New Study Shows How China's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Can Peak By 2030

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researchers present new “bottom up” data

A group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, including ChinaFAQs Network Experts,1 has come out with a new and much more detailed projection of China’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through 2050. The result of this more intensive, “bottom up” analysis is good news for global energy security and the climate. The group’s projection suggests that Chinese energy use could actually plateau before 2050 and greenhouse emissions could peak between 2025 and 2030.

The prospect that China’s energy use will plateau is a very new analysis. There are a number of projections of greenhouse gas emissions peaking, but previous analyses have always assumed that energy use would continue to grow even as it was “decarbonized,” i.e. that there was switching to non-CO2 producing sources. But as LBNL China Energy Group Leader Mark Levine pointed out at a recent ChinaFAQs-Energy and Environmental Study Institute (EESI) seminar, none of the previous studies took into account “saturation effects,” or how many buildings, roads, appliances, etc. China is likely to build and use. Given China’s population density and landmass, the amount of square footage or road surface per capita are likely to be much lower than in the United States. Using pretty generous estimates for these kinds of uses, in particular buildings (they used a per capita figure higher than what is currently the average in Japan, a much richer country), the group found that China’s cement and steel production (which is mainly for domestic infrastructure) could peak within the next decade. Not all uses would peak so quickly, as transportation energy usage continues to grow for decades, and Chinese consumers also continue to acquire more appliances.

But the overall picture is that with current policy China can slow its energy growth, meet its 2020 greenhouse gas limitation commitment made at Copenhagen and Cancun, and start to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms within the next two decades.

The study provides two scenarios: the first is called the Continuous Improvement Scenario, and is based on the continued implementation of current policies. A more ambitious scenario is called the Accelerated Improvement Scenario and projects some additional energy and greenhouse gas control policies that are already proposed or under discussion, but have not yet been implemented. The study also considers these scenarios with and without carbon capture and storage, an approach to storing CO2 emissions underground. The study thus both is a useful projection of likely energy and greenhouse gas emissions outcomes and provides useful new information to Chinese energy planners on how some of the policies they are actively considering would improve China’s overall energy use and greenhouse gas emissions picture.

For more information, see the LBNL press release, or download the full report.

1 Nan Zhou, David Fridley, Michael McNeil, Nina Zheng, Jing Ke, and Mark Levine. “China’s Energy and Carbon Emissions Outlook to 2050,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 2011. Publication LBNL-4472E