The Great Fall
Why Are Greens Celebrating China’s Emissions Decline?

China’s carbon emissions are down for the second year in a row, and the news is making greens giddy. Mother Jones:

China is continuing to drag itself off coal—the dirty energy source that has made it the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Figures published Sunday night by China’s National Bureau of Statistics showed coal consumption dropping 3.7 percent in 2015, marking the second year in a row that the country has slashed coal use and greenhouse gas emissions.

To put that in perspective, Greenpeace East Asia says China’s drop in coal use over the past two years is equal to Japan’s total annual coal consumption—a trend the environmental group says could “far surpass” China’s commitments enshrined in the Paris climate deal reached in December. Last year, China’s carbon emissions dropped 1-2 percent, Greenpeace says, a decline the group attributes to both falling economic output from China’s heavy industries and an upswing in renewable energy use. China is widely expected to meet or surpass its goal of “peaking” emissions (the point at which the country begins to permanently reduce its greenhouse gas emissions) by 2030.

The author admits that 1.8 million coal and steel workers are about to lose their jobs and points out that China’s statistics are often unreliable (something we’ve written about too). But then he, like Greenpeace, moves on to presume that renewable energy sources are likely responsible for the emissions decline.

There’s a much more obvious explanation, one that Greenpeace acknowledges but then quickly buries in its rush to praise renewable energy: China’s industrial sector has taken a huge hit over the past two years. The coal plant reductions have nothing to do with some deep love of nature or selfless concern for the planet. The likeliest explanation for the 1.8 million job layoffs is far simpler: China simply isn’t manufacturing as much as it had been.

The greens see job cuts and a emissions decline and shout victory. The real story, however, is that China’s economy is slowing. If anything, these latest layoff predictions and emissions estimates suggest that China’s economy might be in even worse shape than many people suspected. Which, of course, has knock-on effects for the global economy and dangerous consequences for international stability. So, while greens think this news is something to celebrate, we’re not nearly so hopeful.

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