China's Carbon Emissions Report 2015

| May 2015


In 2012 China was the largest contributor to carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and from cement production. With 8.50 Gt CO2 in in carbon emissions from fossil burning and cement production in 2012, China was responsible for 25 percent of global carbon emissions. China's cumulative emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production from 1950–2012 were 130 Gt CO2.

The magnitude and growing annual rate of growth of China's carbon emissions make this country the major driver of global carbon emissions and thus a key focus for efforts in emissions mitigations. This report presents independent data on China's carbon emissions from 1950–2012, and provides a basis to support mitigation efforts and China's low-carbon development plan.

The research indicates that:

  1. Total carbon emissions in China already equal the emissions from the U.S. and the E.U. combined, however, the per capita emissions are still significantly lower than that of the U.S., but are approaching the average level of the E.U. countries. Given the magnitude and growth rate of China's carbon emissions, the country has become a critical partner in developing policy approaches to reducing global CO2 emissions.
  2. Carbon emissions are mainly the result of fossil fuel combustion (90 percent) and cement production (10 percent). Manufacturing and power generation are the major sectors contributing to China's carbon emissions, together these sectors accounted for 85 percent of China's total carbon emissions in 2012.
  3. Significant diversity exists in China's regional carbon emissions, for example, per capita carbon emissions, and carbon emissions intensity (carbon emissions per unit of GDP) often differ by an order of magnitude across regions (differences are most prominent between developed regions on the east coast and the underdeveloped regions in the west).
  4. About twenty-five percent of China's carbon emissions are caused by manufacturing products that are consumed abroad. These, so-called virtual emissions, which are "embodied" in international trade, lead to China having the world's most unbalanced virtual emissions trade with its emissions associated to exports being 8 times higher than its emissions associated with imports.
  5. Given the magnitude and uncertainty surrounding China's carbon emissions, the precise quantification of CO2 emissions in China will be critical in the world effort to establish global carbon emissions mitigation.
For more information on this publication: Please contact Energy Technology Innovation Policy
For Academic Citation: Liu, Zhu. China's Carbon Emissions Report 2015. Cambridge, Mass.: Report for Sustainability Science Program, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School, Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2015.