China Data Details on a Warming Planet
My first piece for the new climate site Heatmap News
As usually — but not always! — happens when China’s National Bureau of Statistics is scheduled to release economic statistics, it shares the data and makes headlines. Most of these headlines focus on short-term business implications of the data. But given that China is far-and-away the world’s leader in greenhouse gas emissions, the new climate site Heatmap.news published my thoughts on what these data might mean for the planet.
The piece is more subtle than the accompanying illustration, I promise.
Two excerpts. First on investment:
The new quarterly data suggests this might be happening, but a big asterisk is needed. Real estate investment dropped almost 6% this quarter, and housing starts fell even faster — “diving 19.2 percent year on year.”
While this might lead one to expect that steel and cement — the key emissions sources of that construction — would be down as well, the data confounds. The reason here is that state fixed asset investments were up significantly (10%). So, despite the private sector remaining cautious in its investments (only up 0.6%), overall investment ticked up, leading to growth in steel and cement production (6% and 4% this quarter, respectively). Infrastructure, even if underutilized, at least provides more benefits to people than ghostly empty towers of apartments.
And on electricity:
That being said, what matters more than capacity is generation. How much electricity are these plants and facilities actually generating? In recent years, China’s coal plants haven’t been running at full tilt and are shifting to a role of backing-up renewables. In the first quarter, we see that both wind and solar generation continued their rapid growth: 18% and 12% respectively. Total electricity production is up just 2.4%, with thermal power — which is coal-dominated — increasing just 1.7%.
However, the quarterly data masks some interesting patterns in the monthly data. One difficulty with intermittent renewables is, of course, that the sun doesn’t always shine and, in this case the wind doesn’t always blow. And in China, the wind was blowing in January and February much more than it was in March. Wind generation grew in January and February by around 30% but then was flat in March.
Go read the whole thing.