China’s changing economy: implications for its carbon dioxide emissions


Headline issue

China is undergoing another major structural transformation. It is moving towards a new development model, focused on achieving better quality growth that is more sustainable and inclusive.

It is now clear that the rapid rate of growth in the first part of the century (2000–2013) represents a distinct and exceptional phase in China’s developmental history. During this old growth model, very high levels of greenhouse gases emitted were linked closely with the energy-intensive, heavy industry-based growth model pursued at that time.

As China’s government finalises the country’s 13th Five Year Plan for economic development (2016–2020), this article takes stock of recent changes in China’s economy and energy system since the turn of the century, and looks ahead to the likely trajectory of China’s emissions over the next decade.

Key findings

  • China’s CO2 emissions from energy, if they grow at all, are likely to grow much slower than under the old economic model and are likely to peak at some point in the decade before 2025
  • China’s international commitment to peak emissions ‘around 2030’ should be seen as a highly conservative upper limit from a government that prefers to under-promise and over-deliver
  • These findings reinforce the virtue of a ‘dynamic’ approach to international climate cooperation, as envisaged under the Paris Agreement, whereby countries’ targets and policies are regularly updated in light of new information

Climate Policy, March 2016