Greenhouse Gas Emissions in China
Overview of greenhouse gases and emissions per capita in China. Are they prepared to meet net zero targets and invest in the energy transition?
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Greenhouse Gas Emissions in China
Overview of greenhouse gases and emissions per capita in China. Are they prepared to meet net zero targets and invest in the energy transition?
Published:
Loading reading time...
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in China
Overview of greenhouse gases and emissions per capita in China. Are they prepared to meet net zero targets and invest in the energy transition?
Published:
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What percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions does China produce?

China produced 28.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 (the latest date with complete emissions data). This amounted to 12.9bn metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or MtCO₂e. These emissions represented an increase from 2019 by 1.7%.

In the period from 1990 to 2020 their emissions have increased by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.7% and China has contributed 20.5% of global greenhouse emissions.

CountryChina
Population1.41bn
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in USD$17.7tr
Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 202012.9bn
Change in Emissions since 20191.7%
Percentage of Total Emissions (2020)28.9%
Rank – Emitters in 20201
Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions since 1990238bn
Compound Annual Growth – Emissions since 19904.7%
Percentage of Total Emissions (1990-2020)20.5%
GDP Per Capita (USD)$12.6k
Emissions Per Capita9.2

In 2020, China was the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Other big emitters include the United States, India, Russia and Japan.

Emissions per capita in China – average household carbon footprint

The population of China is 1.41bn. On a per capita basis, they produce 9.2 tonnes of CO2e per person, placing them 31st out of 191 on emissions produced per capita. The biggest per capita emitters are Qatar, Turkmenistan, Kuwait and Bahrain.

What is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in China?

Gases

84.6% of emissions in China came from Carbon Dioxide (CO2), 9.2% came from Methane (CH4), and 4.1% came from Nitrous Oxide (N2O).

Sectors

The sector that produced the most emissions in 2020 was the energy industry, producing 10.8bn of GHG emissions, constituting 83.6% of total.

The second and third largest emitting sectors were industrial processes and agriculture, producing 9.7% and 5.1% of total GHG in China.

Energy

The industry that produced the most energy related emissions was the electricity/heat industry, producing 5.71bn of GHG emissions, constituting 44.1% of total emissions.

The second and third largest emitting sectors were manufacturing/construction and transportation, emitting 2.9bn and 921m tonnes of GHG each.

Land Use Change and Forestry

Land use change and forestry (LUCF), such as deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural or urban areas, can have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

  • Trees and other vegetation absorb and store carbon through the process of photosynthesis, and when they are cut down or burned, that stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.
  • Deforestation and other forms of land use change can also reduce the ability of ecosystems to absorb and store carbon in the future. Additionally, the conversion of land for agriculture or urban development can lead to the release of carbon stored in the soil.
  • On the other hand, sustainable forestry practices, such as reforestation and afforestation, can help to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in trees and other vegetation.

In the case of China, LUCF had a positive impact on China’s emissions, decreasing their carbon footprint by 647m tonnes.

After accounting for land use change and forestry, the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in China in 2020 was 12.3bn metric tonnes.

How vulnerable is China to the impact of climate change?

The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) Index

The ND-GAIN Index measures countries’ vulnerability to global challenges, including climate change, and their readiness to improve resilience.

China scores 58.3 on the ND-Gain Index and is classified in the ‘low vulnerability and high readiness’ category of climate change preparedness.

The index aims to assist businesses, governments, and communities in prioritising investments for a more efficient response to global shifts.

It is measured by combining two main components:

  1. Vulnerability: This evaluates a country’s vulnerability to environmental risks and its ability to adapt. It considers health, food and water availability, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. A higher score indicates greater vulnerability to environmental challenges.
  2. Readiness: This measures how well a country can leverage investments to mitigate climate change. It considers economic stability, governance, technology, and infrastructure. A higher score means a country is better prepared to implement resilience strategies.

This ranking helps identify areas where resources and adaptation strategies can be most effectively directed to mitigate risks and enhance resilience.

By combining these dimensions, the index provides a comprehensive approach to measuring countries’ ability to cope with the impacts of climate change.

Low vulnerability and high readiness in China

In terms of readiness to adapt to climate change, China ranks in the top 25% group. Globally, the average readiness score is 0.424, with China posting a score of 0.554.

They show the greatest strength in economic aspects, while their performance in governance aspects requires improvement.

  • Economic readiness refers to the business environment and its capacity to adapt to climate change, emphasizing the importance of a supportive regulatory framework for adaptation initiatives.
  • Governance readiness refers to the political, legal, and regulatory aspects influencing a country’s adaptation to climate change, including stability, corruption control, and law enforcement.

Regarding vulnerability to climate change, China falls into the below average category. Compared to the global average vulnerability score of 0.431, China has a score of 0.387.

Their resilience is most notable in infrastructure areas, yet they face significant challenges in ecosystems.

  • Infrastructure vulnerability refers to the weaknesses in the coastal protection, transportation, and energy systems, which are critical for building resilience against climate change. Coastal protection safeguards land and ports from rising sea levels and storms. Reliable transportation infrastructure is essential for corporate value chains and can be disrupted by extreme weather. Energy infrastructure resilience ensures a continuous supply of energy during natural disasters, maintaining economic stability.
  • Ecosystem services refers to the natural capital and resources foundational to economies and societies. Climate change-induced shifts in geoclimes stress ecosystems, highlighting the need for adaptive responses.

The formula to calculate the ND-GAIN Index is

GAIN Index=(Readiness Indicators−Vulnerability Indicators+1)×50GAIN Index=(Readiness Indicators−Vulnerability Indicators+1)×50

In this formula:

  • The Readiness Indicators are measured on a scale of 0 to 1, where a higher score means that the readiness is better.
  • The Vulnerability Indicators are also measured on a scale of 0 to 1, but a lower score indicates better vulnerability in this case. 
  • The difference between the Readiness and Vulnerability scores is calculated and then incremented by 1. 
  • Finally, the result is multiplied by 50 to convert the GAIN Index score to a range of 0-100, where a higher score means the situation is better.

Is there a correlation between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth in China?

In 2020, the gross domestic product (GDP) in China grew by 2.9% from the previous year, with the economy moving from $14.3tr to $14.7tr. During the same period, carbon emissions increased by 1.7%. Over the ten-year period from 2010 to 2020, GDP grew 141%, while emissions increased by 26.7%.

To put this into context, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of GDP in China over the past ten years was 9.2%, and the CAGR for greenhouse gas emissions was 2.4%.

Sources

World Resources Institute, 2022. Climate Watch Historical GHG Emissions. [online] Washington, DC. Available at: https://www.climatewatchdata.org/ghg-emissions.

Global Carbon Project, 2023. Supplemental data of Global Carbon Budget 2023 (Version 1.1) [Data set]. Global Carbon Project. Available at: https://doi.org/10.18160/gcp-2023.

UNFCCC, 2023. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data. [online] Available at: https://di.unfccc.int.

Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, 2023. ND-GAIN Country Index. [online] Available at: https://gain.nd.edu.

FAO, 2022. Land-Use Change and Forestry or Agriculture indicators from FAOSTAT Emissions Database. [online] Available at: https://www.fao.org/faostat/.

OECD/IEA, 2022. CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/co2-emissions-in-2022.

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