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Drivers of change in China’s energy-related CO2 emissions

Journal article
Authors Xiaoqi Zheng
Yonglong Lu
Jingjing Yuan
Yvette Baninla
Sheng Zhang
Nils Chr. Stenseth
Dag O. Hessen
Hanqin Tian
Michael Obersteiner
Deliang Chen
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America
Volume 117
Issue 1
Pages 29-36
ISSN 0027-8424
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 29-36
Language en
Keywords CO2 emissions, energy consumption, policy change
Subject categories Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


CO2 emissions are of global concern because of climate change. China has become the largest CO2 emitter in the world and presently accounts for 30% of global emissions. Here, we analyze the major drivers of energy-related CO2 emissions in China from 1978 when the reform and opening-up policy was launched. We find that 1) there has been a 6-fold increase in energy-related CO2 emissions, which was driven primarily (176%) by economic growth followed by population growth (16%), while the effects of energy intensity (−79%) and carbon intensity (−13%) slowed the growth of carbon emissions over most of this period; 2) energy-related CO2 emissions are positively related to per capita gross domestic product (GDP), population growth rate, carbon intensity, and energy intensity; and 3) a portfolio of command-and-control policies affecting the drivers has altered the total emission trend. However, given the major role of China in global climate change mitigation, significant future reductions in China’s CO2 emissions will require transformation toward low-carbon energy systems.

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