Chinese Emissions and the Carbon Budget
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global CO2 emissions must be
less than a total of roughly 800 Gt in the decades ahead to have a 66% or greater chance of
meeting the agreed goal of limiting the global average temperatures increase to 2°C/3.6°F
above preindustrial levels.35 China’s emissions will have a significant impact on the world’s
ability to hit that target. Consider the following:
● If China keeps emitting CO2 at its current pace, it will use up roughly one-third of this
global “carbon budget” by 2045.
● If Chinese emissions (1) increase between now and around 2030 (when the Chinese
government has pledged to peak emissions) and then (2) decrease in the years that
follow at the same pace at which emissions increase between now and 2030, China
will still use up roughly one-third of this global “carbon budget” by 2045.
● If Chinese emissions increase 0.5% per year between now and 2025 and then
decrease 1.0% per year between 2025 and 2045, China will use up roughly 30% of
the carbon budget.
Of course, industrialized countries emitted far more CO2 than China in the past century. (CO2
stays in the atmosphere for many years once emitted.) Industrialized countries are responsible
for most of the human-caused CO2 currently in the atmosphere and, in part for that reason,
have agreed to take the lead in cutting emissions in the decades ahead. But however much
other countries limit emissions in the decades ahead, Chinese emissions will have a big impact
on the global total.
35. See IPCC, “Summary for Policymakers -- Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis” at p.27, http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf (2,900 Gt CO2 total emissions is the maximum for a 66% chance of staying within 2°C/3.6°F; 1,890 Gt were already emitted by 2011). Average global CO2 emissions since 2011 = approximately 36 Gt/year. 36 Gt/year × 6 years = 216 Gt emitted since 2011. 2,900 Gt maximum − 1,890 Gt emitted prior to 2011 − 216 Gt emitted since 2011 = 794 Gt remaining.