Analysis: China’s CO2 emissions hit Q1 record high after 4% rise in early 2023

China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions grew 4 per cent in the first quarter of 2023, reaching a record high for the first three months of the year.

The new analysis shows that China’s CO2 emissions grew 4 per cent in the first quarter of 2023, compared with a year earlier. This means first-quarter emissions were the highest on record, exceeding the previous peak reached in the first three months of 2021. Image: , CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

The new analysis for Carbon Brief, based on official figures and commercial data, shows the increase was driven by an economic rebound after the end of China’s long zero-Covid policy, stimulus measures and weak hydro generation due to an ongoing drought.

Looking at the rest of the year, the government’s focus on economic growth means that China’s emissions are likely to reach an all-time high in 2023, topping the previous peak in 2021.

The medium-term picture is less clear. The first quarter of 2023 saw further approvals for new coal power capacity, after a sharp increase last year. In the same period, additions of wind and solar capacity both reached record highs, with nuclear also accelerating.

The growth of low-carbon energy means new coal capacity is not guaranteed to raise China’s emissions – and recent high-profile criticism could mean more scrutiny of coal expansion. 

The rapid expansion in low-carbon energy, if sustained, could enable emissions to peak and enter structural decline, once the post-Covid recovery has played out.

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