Emissions Fall in China, Rise in Europe Amid Covid Recovery

The Neurath Power Station, a coal-fired power plant in Grevenbroich, Germany.

The Neurath Power Station, a coal-fired power plant in Grevenbroich, Germany. Metropole Ruhr via Flickr

A tale of two continents: Europe’s emissions rose by one fifth in the spring, as manufacturing and construction rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, in China, emissions scarcely grew in the spring and fell in the summer amid a shortage of coal and a slowdown in construction.

Carbon emissions from European Union countries were 18 percent greater in the second quarter of 2021 compared with the same period last year, Reuters reported, though emissions remain lower than before the pandemic, consistent with the long-term decline. The coming months could see further emissions growth, as natural gas shortages spur European electric utilities to burn more coal, even as a rising fee on carbon emissions from power plants discourages its use, Reuters reported.

“The electricity transition is happening but not with the urgency required: emissions are going in the wrong direction,” Dave Jones, global lead at climate think tank Ember, told Reuters.

China is seeing trends go in the opposite direction. In the second quarter, its emissions were up just 1 percent over the same period in 2020, while third quarter emissions were down 0.5 percent from the previous year.

While construction is fueling emissions growth in Europe, China has slowed property development in an effort to deflate its housing bubble. Production of steel and cement, two carbon-intensive industries, has dropped in tandem, Reuters reported.

And while the energy crunch is spurring Europe to burn more coal, it’s causing China to burn less. Widespread coal shortages are leading to high energy prices and power outages, stymying industrial operations and stunting electricity consumption.

“Looking ahead, the drop in emissions could mark a turning point and an early peak in China’s emissions total, years ahead of its target to peak before 2030,” Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, wrote in Carbon Brief. “Alternatively, if the Chinese government injects further construction stimulus to boost its economy, emissions could rebound once again, before peaking later this decade.”