China’s Covid Comeback Is Bad News for Climate as Emissions Rise

China was likely the only major economy that grew last year after swiftly containing the coronavirus. It’s also the only major economy that saw carbon emissions rise.

In December, emissions surpassed 2019 levels for the first time all year, according to data from Carbon Monitor, a collaborative effort between researchers in China, Europe and the U.S. that offers near real-time monitoring. That lifted total emissions in the country for 2020 to 10.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, 0.5% higher than the year before.

China’s Covid Comeback Is Bad News for Climate as Emissions Rise

The increase comes as global emissions likely dropped by 4.4% in 2020, according to Carbon Monitor, with declines in Brazil running to about 10% and nearly 13% in the U.S. China’s emissions dropped 11% in the first quarter, during its intense pandemic lockdown, as gross domestic product shrank 6.8% from a year earlier.

Carbon Monitor’s research captures emissions from burning fossil fuels and from cement production. Its estimates are subject to change as more data becomes available.

The emissions comeback underscores the challenge China and the rest of the world face as they balance economic revival and long-term climate goals. Because it was the first country to encounter and contain the virus, China’s pandemic path has often foreshadowed the experiences of other countries.

China’s recovery picked up speed last month, putting it further ahead of rivals. Industrial production surged in the fourth quarter, with the country producing more than 1 billion tons of crude steel in 2020, an annual record.

The nation’s long-term climate plans including hitting peak emissions by 2030 at the latest, and reaching net-zero emissions by 2060. Reaching that will require an overhaul of its mostly coal-based power sector, which contributed nearly half of the country’s emissions in 2020, according to Carbon Monitor data.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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