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Expand chart
Data: International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook 2018; Chart: Chris Canipe

A new paper in the journal Nature Communications has good news if you're in a "glass half full" kind of mood, concluding that China's carbon emissions are likely to peak well before 2030 if several things break right.

Why it matters: China has a lot to say about the planet's future. It's by far the world's largest CO2 emitter and over a fourth of the world's total.

  • The country has pledged under the Paris climate deal to peak by 2030, seek to make it happen sooner, and boost the share of non-fossil energy to 20% by then.

But, but, but: The analysis shows why none of this can be taken for granted.

  • Hitting these CO2 and energy targets will require "full and effective implementation of all current policies," as well as power-sector reforms, implementing and expanding its emissions-trading system (ETS), toughening efficiency rules, and addressing other gaps.

Quick take: The paper's conclusion is a sign that an important pledge made under the Paris deal is achievable.

  • But it also shows the challenge of overcoming the gap between nations' current plans, and what's needed to put rising global emissions on the necessary downward slope.

Check out the charts above, which Axios data journalist Chris Canipe constructed from International Energy Agency analyses.

  • The one on the left models what happens if China delivers on existing and announced policies.
  • The one on the right? That's the scenario for an emissions pathway consistent with nations jointly achieving the Paris agreement's big goal: Holding temperature rise to 2°C above preindustrial levels, and ideally to 1.5°C.

What they're saying: I asked Kelly Sims Gallagher, lead study author from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, whether the paper's finding is something of a Pyrrhic victory, given the need for much deeper global cuts.

  • "Every country has to start somewhere and for a rapidly industrializing economy, it is not easy to halt growth in emissions," Gallagher says.
  • "Our study finds that China will peak its emissions early, which will allow it to begin the reduction process sooner, which is very good news. It is also great to see that they are abiding by the international treaty, unlike the United States."

Details: The authors surveyed experts on China about existing policies and new ones needed to meet China's pledge. They note that the most frequent responses in the latter category include a carbon tax for sectors that aren't covered by the ETS and "entrepreneurship incentives for low-carbon firms."

The intrigue: "Few experts identified innovation policies, economic reform policies, or industrial policies as influential in emissions reductions, but the authors of this paper believe that these policies are, in fact, key to the ability of China to limit future emissions," they write.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.