China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 or sooner under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C or less by the end of the century. By examining CO2 emissions from 50 Chinese cities over the period 2000–2016, we found a close relationship between per capita emissions and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for individual cities, following the environmental Kuznets curve, despite diverse trajectories for CO2 emissions across the cities. Results show that carbon emissions peak for most cities at a per capita GDP (in 2011 purchasing power parity) of around US$21,000 (80% confidence interval: US$19,000 to 22,000). Applying a Monte Carlo approach to simulate the peak of per capita emissions using a Kuznets function based on China’s historical emissions, we project that emissions for China should peak at 13–16 GtCO2 yr−1 between 2021 and 2025, approximately 5–10 yr ahead of the current Paris target of 2030. We show that the challenges faced by individual types of Chinese cities in realizing low-carbon development differ significantly depending on economic structure, urban form and geographical location.
Wang et al. is the cover article of this issue of Nature Sustainability.
Haze days induced by aerosol pollution in North and East China have posed a persistent and growing problem over the past few decades. These events are particularly threatening to densely-populated cities such as Beijing. While the sources of this pollution are predominantly anthropogenic, natural climate variations may also play a role in allowing for atmospheric conditions conducive to formation of severe haze episodes over populated areas. Here, an investigation is conducted into the effects of changes in global dynamics and emissions on air quality in China’s polluted regions using 35 simulations developed from the Community Earth Systems Model Large Ensemble (CESM LENS) run over the period 1920-2100. It is shown that internal variability significantly modulates aerosol optical depth (AOD) over China; it takes roughly a decade for the forced response to balance the effects from internal variability even in China’s most polluted regions. Random forest regressions are used to accurately model (R2 > 0.9) wintertime AOD using just climate oscillations, the month of the year and emissions. How different phases of each oscillation affect aerosol loading are projected using these regressions. AOD responses are identified for each oscillation, with particularly strong responses from El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). As ENSO can be projected a few months in advance and improvements in linear inverse modelling (LIM) may yield a similar predictability for the PDO, results of this study offer opportunities to improve the predictability of China’s severe wintertime haze events, and to inform policy options that could mitigate subsequent health impacts.