China’s carbon emissions fell for the first time in over a decade

Another smoggy day in Wuhan
Another smoggy day in Wuhan
Image: Reuters/Stringer
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China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, saw its carbon dioxide emissions fall last year, for the first time in 13 years. Carbon emissions in the country fell by 2% in 2014, compared to the year before, according to estimates from Bloomberg, based on data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

That drop stands in sharp contrast to the trend over the past decade. Total greenhouse gas emissions from China have grown an average of 2.5% annually. And a longer-term cutback in emissions from China would be a big deal. In 2013, China accounted for 28% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—of which carbon dioxide accounts for more than half—and more than the US and the European Union combined.

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The falling emissions are good news for a government that has been promising to reduce China’s reliance on coal and overall pollution—an especially sensitive subject after a documentary by a former state TV reporter went viral, and sparked a national conversation.

The government is trying to reduce coal, as a share of energy consumption, to below 62% by 2020, from about 64% last year. To do that, the country has been closing coal mines (as well as opening larger ones in the west) and investing in nuclear, hydro, and wind power.

The falling emissions are also likely the result of a slowing Chinese economy, which grew at its slowest pace in 24 years last year, at 7.4%. Last year, energy consumption, also used as a gauge for economic activity, rose 3.8%, its weakest rate since 1990.