Short introduction on China’s emissions
Although CO2 is the driving force behind the temperature changes, other gases such as methane (CH4) also contribute their share to global warming, for example through the exploitation of gas fields, and emissions by livestock. While methane is emitted much less than CO2 on a global scale, it is a much stronger greenhouse gas (GHG). Scientists estimated the relative strength of the important Kyoto greenhouse gases so that we can convert all emissions to an equivalent of CO2 emissions. For example, the emission of one ton of methane has approximately the warming effect of 25 tons of CO2. The factor of 25 reflects the climate forcing on a 100-year time horizon, following the Global Warming Potential presented in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).
With greenhouse gas emissions of approximately the equivalent of 13.0 giga tonnes of CO2 (Gt CO2eq), China contributed 27.17% to the global greenhouse gas emissions of 2017 (rank 1 - incl. EU27 on rank 3). All emissions estimates exclude emissions and absorption from land, which result from activities such as cutting down or planting of forests (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry: LULUCF). Emissions from bunker fuels (international aviation and shipping) were also excluded, as they are not accounted for in national totals.
For 2030, China’s global contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is projected to increase to approximately 29.57% (16.5 giga tonnes of CO2 equivalent / rank 1 - incl. EU27 on rank 4). The emissions projections for China were derived by downscaling the Shared Socio-Economic Pathways’ (SSPs) “Middle-of-the-Road” baseline marker scenario SSP2. These pathways describe certain narratives of socio-economic developments and were, i.a., used to derive greenhouse gas emissions scenarios that correspond to these developments. SSP2 is a narrative with little shifts in socio-economic patterns compared to historical ones, and is connected to medium socio-economic challenges for both climate mitigation and adaptation. While different models were used for each storyline, per SSP (SSPs1-5) one model was chosen as representative “marker scenario”. As the emissions projections are not readily available on country-level, but national estimates are important, the pathways were downscaled in the aftermath. In 2017, China represented 18.82% of the global population. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017 were 15.66% of the global GDP.
Looking at the highest contributing emissions sectors and gases separately, we find that in 2017 the highest contributing emissions sectors were Energy and IPPU (76.3% and 14.1%). Amongst the greenhouse gases that are considered in the Kyoto Protocol, the strongest contributor with 80.2% was CO2. This was followed by CH4 emissions, with a significantly lower share of 11.7%. When not considering the sectors and gases independently, but the sector-gas combinations instead, Energy CO2 and IPPU CO2 (69.3% and 10.5%) represented the largest emissions in 2017.
Greenhouse gas mitigation and Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)
In 2015, the majority of countries agreed to the Paris Agreement (PA), with the goal of “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (Article 2.1.a). Countries stated their pledges and targets towards achieving the PA’s goals in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). With Article 4.4 of the Paris Agreement, Parties decided that “Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.”
The country has submitted an NDC in which it states that “China has nationally determined its actions by 2030 as follows: To achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and making best efforts to peak early; To lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level; To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level.” (NDC, p. 21). Even though not stated explicitly, we assume China’s contributions to be unconditional, and therefore not dependent on, e.g., international financial support or technology transfer.
In China’s NDC, we could not find the quantitative information necessary to quantify the planned reduction of 60-65% in emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 2030, compared to its 2005 base year emissions intensity, why quantifications rely on “external” data (non-NDC data). The availability of national estimates of emissions mitigation targets and pathways in line with countries’ NDCs is of great importance when, e.g., aggregating to global emissions to then derive, i.a., the resulting end-of-century warming levels. In the NDC we further did not find information on whether the target’s scope is economy-wide. For the main IPCC sectors (Energy, IPPU, Agriculture, LULUCF, and Waste), we assess all sectors to be covered, based on the given sectoral measures (NDC, p. 20-25). We only assessed the share of emissions emitted in the form of CO2 as covered by China’s GHG mitigation target and assume the remaining emissions to follow Business-As-Usual (BAU), not affected by the mitigation target. In the land-component, i.a., afforestation shall be vigorously enhanced, and the forest carbon sink shall be increased (NDC, p. 26).
The NDC-assessment is based on China’s NDC submitted to the UNFCCC in September 2016. Relying on “external” non-NDC data (SSP2) and the assessed national share of targeted emissions, for China we quantify the higher end of the 2030 unconditional target as 13.4 Gt CO2eq AR4 (relative emissions intensity reduction: -60%, inclLU), and estimate the lower limit of the 2030 unconditional target as 12.1 Gt CO2eq AR4 (-65%, inclLU).
The Figure below provides additional information, regarding both the baseline emissions used in our assessment and the quantified mitigated pathways for China.
Baseline emissions and mitigated emissions pathways based on the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution. In terms of national emissions, we look at the SSP2 baseline marker scenario, and the emissions of all IPCC sectors. Contributions from LULUCF are excluded (exclLU), and the emissions are based on GWPs from AR4. The left panel (a) shows the baseline emissions, indicating the contributions of the Kyoto Greenhouse Gases CO2, CH4, N2O, and the basket of F-gases to the national emissions. If we could extract baseline data exclLU from the NDC, you can see their values as black squares (converted from GWP SAR to AR4 if needed). In the right panel (b), the quantified mitigated emissions pathways are shown, based on information from the country’s NDC and also on non-NDC emissions baselines, per target conditionality and range (marked un-/conditional best/worst). Even though not all countries have targets with different conditionalities or ranges, we need assumptions for all four cases to build one global pathway per conditionality plus range combination and to derive corresponding temperature estimates. Therefore, we indicate these four pathways here. Per combination, we performed several quantifications with differing assumptions and show the median and the minimal and maximal pathways here. Additionally, if we could quantify the targets based on data extracted purely from the NDC - or if the targets were directly given in absolute emissions, these targets are shown as squares (in the GWP originally given in the NDC).
Data sources and further information
- Historical emissions: PRIMAP-hist v2.1 (Guetschow et al., 2016, 2019).
- Historical socio-economic data: PRIMAP-hist Socio-Eco v2.1 (Guetschow et al., 2019).
- Projected emissions and socio-economic data: downscaled SSPs (Guetschow et al., 2020, 2020).
- NDC quantifications: NDCmitiQ (Guenther et al., 2020, 2021).
- GDP is given in purchasing power parity (PPP).
- Main emissions sectors (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC): Energy, Industrial Processes and Product Use (IPPU), Agriculture and LULUCF (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry), also named AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use), and Waste.
- Kyoto GHG: basket of several GHGs, namely carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), and since the second Kyoto Protocol period (2013-20) additionally nitrogen fluoride (NF3).
- Global Warming Potentials (GWPs): GHGs have very different warming potentials. To make them comparable and for aggregation purposes, GWPs are used (how much energy will 1 ton of a certain gas absorb over a defined period of time, relative to the same mass of CO2?).
1 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), 14473 Potsdam, Germany