Corornavirus (COVID-19) has slowed Chinese emissions. China burns about half the coal used globally while at the same time it is the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles. This duality is evident in Shanxi, which is both China’s coal mining region and the location of some of the country’s
largest solar and wind power projects.
China is both a clean energy leader and a dirty energy behemoth. China is now the world’s second largest economy and the largest carbon emitter. Their coal powered economic growth has unleashed a carbon bomb. Overall the country’s carbon output tripled between 2000 and 2018, and its CO2 emissions now represents almost one third of the global total.
An analysis by Global Energy Monitor reveals that the situation is going from bad to worse as the country is currently building or planing 148 gigawatts of new coal power capacity.
Despite China’s reliance on coal they are also a central player in the global green economy and they are critical to the fight against climate change. The country manufactures about two-thirds of solar cells installed worldwide and they have reduced the price of solar panels by 80 percent. China has also contributed to price declines in wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries.
China is also an unparalleled world leader in electric buses. A BloombergNEF report found that of the 385,000 electric buses in the world in 2017, almost all of them were in China. The Chinese city of Shenzhen alone electrified 16,000 buses. This electrification effort is being driven by the nation’s war on pollution. In the period between 2014 and 2016 China canceled many coal plants and installed scrubbers on 80 percent of existing plants to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other hazardous emissions. This has improved air quality but these scrubbers do not reduce climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions like carbon and methane.
China’s non-fossil fuel based energy production accounts for only 15 percent of the country’s energy mix and support for renewables began declining last year. In 2019 the Chinese government reduced
renewable energy subsidies and as a consequence investment in renewables declined by 39 percent in the first half of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018.
China’s economy has slowed to its lowest level in 25 years and Chinese policy makers are trying to stimulate the economy by loosening their environmental controls and providing support packages for coal and other carbon intensive industries. Although carbon emissions declined between 2014 and 2016, but they began to rise again in 2017 and a preliminary analysis by Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, indicates that China’s emissions rose in the first half of 2019 and into 2020.
However, China’s emissions have been dramatically slowed by coronavirus. Travel restrictions and lower economic activity have decreased energy consumption by industry to a four year low. According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, this deadly pandemic slowed industrial demand and reduced CO2 emissions in that country by 100 million metric tons. During a two week period in February 2020 CO2 emissions in the country were roughly 300 million metric tons, during the same period last year China’s carbon output was around 400 million metric tons.
Despite the economic slowdown and coronavirus, BloombergNEF suggests that China’s stimulus will increase the nation’s emissions in 2020.