Emissions Growth

China’s CO2 emissions have been rising for most of the past 40 years.[18]

  • In 1980, China’s CO2 emissions were less than 1.5 Gt. Per capita emissions were roughly the same as in Bhutan and North Korea today.[19]
  • Between 1980 and 2000, China’s CO2 emissions grew at roughly 4% per year, as the Chinese government’s “Reform and Opening Up” policies produced steady economic growth.
  • Between 2000 and 2012, China’s CO2 emissions shot up roughly 9.5% per year, reflecting the country’s extraordinary economic growth during this period. Chinese CO2 emissions nearly tripled in 12 years. This period included the largest decadal CO2 emissions growth of any country in history, by far.
  • Between 2013 and 2016, China’s CO2 emissions held roughly steady. During several years in this period, according to some estimates, CO2 emissions declined. The plateau in China’s CO2 emissions from 2013–2016 was the result of a number factors, including (i) a structural shift in the economy away from heavy manufacturing, (ii) a cyclical downturn in some energy-intensive industries, (iii) slower overall economic growth, (iv) coal-to-gas switching, (v) increases in solar and wind power, and (vii) greater hydropower generation due to significant rainfall in several years.[20]
  • In 2017 and 2018, China’s CO2 emissions began climbing again. Emissions rose roughly 1.5% in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018, according to leading estimates. Causes included a cyclical rebound in some energy-intensive industries and (in 2018) greater demand for heating and cooling due to an unusually large number of hot and cold days.[21]
China’s CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels (Gt)—1985–2018


[18] For historic data on Chinese emissions, see World Bank, Data-CO2 Emissions-China and

 sources in Figure 1-10 below.

[19] World Bank, Data-China; World Bank, Data-Bhutan, World Bank, Data-Korea, Dem. People’s Rep. (accessed August 31, 2019)

[20] See Jan Korsbakken and Glen Peters, “A Closer Look at China’s Stalled Carbon Emissions,” Carbon Brief (March 1, 2017).

[21] IEA, CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion (2017);  BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 (June 2019) at pp.3, 4, 57; Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Robbie Andrew and Glen Peters, “China’s CO2 emissions grew less than expected in 2017,” Carbon Brief (March 8, 2018).

[22] IEA, CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion (2017); BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 (June 2019) at p.57.

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