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%.