Discarded car doors sit in an alleyway as smoke billows from the chimneys of a factory nearby in Dalian, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

China's Carbon Emissions May Have Peaked

(Bloomberg) -- China’s greenhouse-gas emissions could be falling faster than expected, bolstering the world’s biggest polluter’s leadership credentials in the fight against climate change.

A decline in emissions in the three years through 2016 is linked to technology improvements in cities focused on energy production and manufacturing, according to research led by the University of East Anglia in England. China can eliminate about 30 percent of its carbon dioxide output by concentrating on “super emitting” industry sectors in some of the 182 cities covered by the report.

China's Carbon Emissions May Have Peaked

The leveling off of China’s emissions is a “tremendous watershed” in the fight to avoid dangerous climate change and reflects deliberate efforts to clean up, the report said. The nation, along with Canada and the European Union, are leading the charge in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, unfazed by the U.S. planned withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate accord.

“The decline of Chinese emissions is structural and is likely to be sustained if the growing industrial and energy system transitions continue,” said Dabo Guan, a UEA climate-change economics professor and a lead author of the report published in the journal Nature Geoscience. “China has increasingly assumed a leadership role in climate-change mitigation.”

Slowing economic growth and the expected ease for some of the nation’s dirtiest regions to switch away from coal also contributed to the drop in emissions, the report said.

Still, carbon output fluctuates and more peaks may come. Last year’s emissions, which aren’t covered in UEA’s report, rebounded to a record, according to estimates from BP Plc. And as slowing economic activity contributed to less greenhouse-gas production, renewed growth could reverse that, the UEA said.

China's Carbon Emissions May Have Peaked

Under government plans to cut emissions, China’s regional pilot carbon market programs will be replaced by a nationwide emissions trading system this year. A policy directive to cap coal use requires its proportion in the energy mix to decrease to about 58 percent by 2020 from 64 percent in 2015.

China is scaling back plans for new coal power plants, the biggest reason why the volume of new projects worldwide has more than halved since 2012, according to London research group Carbon Tracker Initiative.

“Government policies are also a sign that the decline in China’s emissions will carry on,” UEA’s Guan said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.