Jun 29, 2020 - Energy & Environment

China's carbon emissions surge above pre-pandemic levels

Smoke coming out of a factory chimney.
Weihai in Shandong province, China in 2019. Photo: Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

Carbon dioxide emissions from China have "surged back from the coronavirus lockdown" last month, exceeding their level from May 2019, a new analysis shows.

Why it matters: China is by far the world's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Its trajectory in the coming years and decades will play a key role in global efforts to rein in — or fail to rein in — heat-trapping emissions.

What they found: "The increase in CO2 in May was driven by coal power, cement and other heavy industries, which appear to be bouncing back faster than other sectors of the economy," writes Lauri Myllyvirta in a post on Carbon Brief.

  • "This is prompting concerns about the global implications of a coal-heavy recovery in China," writes Myllyvirta, an analyst with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The bottom line: The analysis shows why governments' responses to the pandemic are an important climate story.

  • He notes that China's emissions on a year-to-date basis are still 6% below last year.
  • Going forward, Myllyvirta is watching how much China's economic response to the pandemic emphasizes emissions-intensive construction.
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