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Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

One complicated dimension of the unfolding coronavirus tragedy is what it ultimately means for carbon emissions in China, by far the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter.

Driving the news: A Rhodium Group analysis shows China's emissions grew by another 2.6% last year.

  • But now the curtailment of travel and industrial activity due to COVID-19 has led to steep declines this year. How much they will bounce back is unclear, Rhodium finds.

What's next: Analysts are keeping their eyes peeled for signs of what the Chinese government's economic stimulus measures will look like.

  • A "property and construction-heavy" package could increase cement and steel production, Rhodium finds. That scenario increases the economy's carbon intensity — that is, emissions per unit of economic output — as coal's market share rises for a time.
  • "If stimulus resources are directed towards non-fossil sources of energy production, the opposite could occur. What does this all mean? Essentially, it’s just too soon to tell," they conclude.

A separate new analysis of China's energy sector and economy by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies similarly finds: "[T]he focus on COVID-19 has slowed progress on other policy priorities including environmental policies and liberalisation, and a strong fossil-fuel heavy stimulus would further delay them."

By the numbers: "Coal consumption by the six largest power plants in China has fallen over 40% since the last quarter of 2019," Rhodium notes.

  • Their analysis also cites a recent estimate by the climate news and analysis site Carbon Brief, which found that in the four weeks after the Chinese New Year, China's CO2 emissions likely fell by 25%.

Go deeper

Biden speaks with Macron for first time since diplomatic crisis

President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have a conversation ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels, on June 14, 2021. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time since a diplomatic row erupted over a scrapped submarine order, per the White House.

Driving the news: Macron said that the French ambassador will return to Washington next week and will resume working with senior U.S. officials.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran "plan B"

Bennett and Biden. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran last week to discuss a possible “plan B” if nuclear talks are not resumed, two senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time a top-secret U.S.-Israel strategic working group on Iran has convened since the new Israeli government took office in June.

2 hours ago - World

Scoop: Jake Sullivan plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE next week

Sullivan. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan is planning to travel to the Middle East next week, including a stop in Saudi Arabia. He would be the most senior Biden administration official to visit the kingdom.

Why it matters: Sullivan's first trip to the region since taking office is expected to include stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, sources briefed on the plans tell Axios. All three countries are longtime U.S. partners who have faced some early tensions with Biden.