China’s Carbon Emissions Are Set to Decline Years Earlier Than Expected - Kanebridge News
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China’s Carbon Emissions Are Set to Decline Years Earlier Than Expected

By SHA HUA
Mon, Feb 12, 2024 8:41amGrey Clock 4 min

China’s massive rollout of renewable energy is accelerating, its investments in the sector growing so large that international climate watchdogs now expect the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions to peak years earlier than anticipated—possibly as soon as this year.

China installed 217 gigawatts worth of solar power last year alone, a 55% increase, according to new government data. That is more than 500 million solar panels and well above the total installed solar capacity of the U.S. They appeared everywhere from the deserts of Inner Mongolia to the mountains of southwest China to rooftops across the country, including on the Great Hall of the People on the edge of Tiananmen Square.

Wind-energy installation additions were 76 gigawatts last year, more than the rest of the world combined. That amounted to more than 20,000 new turbines across the country, including the world’s largest, planted on towers in the sea off China’s east coast.

The low-carbon capacity additions, which also included hydropower and nuclear, were for the first time large enough that their power output could cover the entire annual increase in Chinese electricity demand, analysts say. The dynamic suggests that coal-fired generation—which accounts for 70% of overall emissions for the world’s biggest polluter—is set to decline in the years to come, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency and Lauri Myllyvirta , the Helsinki-based lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

China’s expanding renewables footprint is shaping the global response to climate change. Its companies are the leading manufacturers of clean-energy technology, from solar panels and wind turbines to electric vehicles. That is stoking concerns in the rest of the industrialised world about depending on China for their energy supplies in the future.

At the same time, China’s deployment of renewables at home is breathing new life into international climate diplomacy . Its rapid emissions growth long provided fodder for critics who said Beijing wasn’t committed to fighting climate change or supporting the Paris accord , the landmark climate agreement that calls for governments to attempt to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures. Now, analysts and officials say Beijing’s efforts are lending momentum to the Paris process, which requires governments to draft new emissions plans every five years.

“An early peak would have a lot of symbolic value and send a signal to the world that we’ve turned a corner,” said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Oslo-based Center for International Climate and Environmental Research.

In 2020, Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged that the country’s emissions would begin falling before 2030 and hit net zero before 2060, part of its plan prepared under the Paris accord. He also said China would have 1,200 gigawatts of total solar- and wind-power capacity by the end of this decade. The country is six years ahead of schedule: China reached 1,050 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity at the end of 2023, and the China Electricity Council forecast last month that capacity would top 1,300 gigawatts by the end of this year.

“China’s acceleration was extraordinary,” said Fatih Birol , the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Chinese authorities publish regular data on energy consumption and generation but not overall greenhouse-gas emissions. Transition Zero, a U.K.-based nonprofit that uses satellite images to monitor industrial activity and emissions in China, says the official data are “broadly aligned and consistent” with theirs.

Once the peak arrives, some analysts expect an emissions plateau to follow rather than a rapid fall in the following years. That is a problem, scientists say, because the world’s major emitters must sharply cut global emissions this decade—by 43% compared with 2019—to fulfill the Paris accord.

Climate Action Tracker, a scientific consortium that evaluates governments’ emissions plans, rates China’s current policies as “highly insufficient” to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal . Its latest analysis, published in November, says China’s emissions should peak by 2025. If wind and solar installations can average 300 gigawatts a year—as they did last year—China’s emissions should fall significantly by the end of the decade, the consortium says. The actions and policies of the U.S., where emissions have been falling, were graded as “insufficient.”

Still, moving China’s timeline for an overall emissions peak forward could shave off around 0.3 to 0.4 degrees Celsius of projected global warming if emissions started to decline next decade, analysts say. Emissions plans submitted to date under the Paris accord would put the world on track to warm by 2.5 degrees Celsius this century, a United Nations Environment Program report said in November.

China is still building coal-fired power plants , fuelling criticism from Western officials that it is locking in carbon-dioxide emissions years into the future. Beijing has been telling Western officials that the new plants won’t be as polluting as they fear. They are replacing older, higher-emitting plants, and will run far below full capacity, used largely to maintain electric-grid stability as China generates more of its power from intermittent wind and solar. In November, China unveiled a system of capacity payments for coal-fired plants that will allow them to earn money even when they are running as backup power sources. Xi said in 2021 that China would begin to phase down its coal consumption starting in 2026.

The exact timing of China’s peak depends on factors such as economic growth and weather in the next few years, analysts say. Growth is expected to slow following China’s real-estate sector slump —unless Beijing undertakes a major new program of economic stimulus that would boost industrial emissions. Another spell of drought this summer would push the country’s coal plants to run harder to replace lost hydropower generation.

The most certain variable in the equation is the breakneck pace of China’s renewable-energy rollout, which analysts expect will continue to add 200 to 300 gigawatts of new wind and solar capacity a year. The investments in renewable energy have become a major driver of the Chinese economy. The country’s clean-energy spending totaled $890 billion last year, up 40%. Without that growth, investment in China would have been flat as the country reels from the slump in its real-estate sector, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The investments include clean-energy installations and the construction of enormous factories to produce solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles—turning the country into the leading manufacturer of clean tech. Its factories in those sectors now have plenty of unused capacity . The adoption of electric vehicles is happening so rapidly that analysts say peak gasoline demand in China was already reached last year.

At the United Nations COP28 climate conference in Dubai in November, Xie Zhenhua , then China’s climate envoy , said the government would calculate the year and absolute volume of the country’s emissions peak. He also said Beijing is drawing up its next emissions plan under the Paris accord.

“Our country will do as it’s said and strive to do even better,” he said. “I have faith.”



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The S&P 500 index has been crushing private-equity returns in the past year, and Blackstone ’s second-quarter results illustrate that trend.

As part of its earnings release early Thursday Blackstone said its corporate private-equity returns in the year ending in June were 11.3%. That compares with a 24.5% total return for the S&P 500.

In the prior year ending in June 2023, the S&P 500 topped Blackstone with a 19.4% return against 9.7% for the firm’s corporate private-equity business, which has $145 billion of assets and remains one of its most important areas along with real estate.

Blackstone is the leading alternatives firm with over $1 trillion in assets under management and has the largest market value of any public investment firm at more than $160 billion.

Driven by Nvidia , Microsoft , Apple , Amazon and other big technology stocks, the S&P 500 has handily topped most asset classes in the past several years.

Another sign of more difficult times for private equity came earlier this week from Calpers, the $503 billion California pension fund, when it reported it s preliminary returns for its fiscal year ending in June . Calpers is one of the first major endowments or pension funds to report results for the June fiscal year. undefined The pension fund, a major player in private equity, said its private-equity investments gained 10.9% net of fees—although that figure is lagged one quarter. Calpers’ public-equity investments were up 17.5% in the year ended June—its strongest asset class. Private equity remains a favorite of many pension funds and leading university endowments like those of Harvard and Yale. Their view is that private equity can beat public-market returns over the long term.

But the private-equity business has gotten tougher in recent years due to keen competition for deals, higher interest rates and a less receptive IPO market, which has made exits tougher.

And private-equity portfolios of firms like Blackstone look nothing like the S&P 500, given their investments in small to midsize companies.

Blackstone, for instance, bought a majority stake in Emerson’s climate technologies business last year and more recently purchased Tropical Smoothie, a franchiser of fast-casual cafes. It also holds a stake in Bumble, the publicly traded online dating site, and it’s an investor in actress Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. Blackstone’s corporate private-equity business runs $145 billion and has 82 investments, according to the firm’s website.

Blackstone’s private-equity business has strong long-term returns including a gain of over 50% in the year ended in June 2021 when it handily topped the S&P 500 index.

But the S&P 500 index has become difficult to beat more recently and it’s dominated by some of the best companies in the world. It carries less risk than private equity, given the cash-rich balance sheets of its leading companies like Apple , Microsoft and Alphabet .

Private-equity firms, by contrast, often use considerable leverage to boost returns. Investors can get exposure to the S&P 500 through index funds that charge 0.1% or less in annual fees and with immediate liquidity.

A key risk with the S&P 500 is its vulnerability to a selloff in the leading tech firms that now make up over 40% of the index. The recent rotation into smaller companies illustrates that.

Blackstone shares gained 1.1% to $136.31 Thursday in the wake of its earnings news as investors focused on rising investment deployments and positive management comments on the firm’s outlook.

The firm’s nearly $40 billion of inflows and $34 billion of capital deployment during the second quarter marked “the highest level of investment activity in two years,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement.

Citi analyst Christopher Allen wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that while Blackstone’s overall performance was mixed, the outlook appears to be improving given fund-raising and deployment trends.

Investors also were heartened by Blackstone President Jon Gray’s comments about a bottoming in commercial real estate and strong capital deployment in that area.

But ultimately, the game for Blackstone and its alternatives peers is about performance—particularly beating low-fee public investments like the S&P 500. That seems to be getting more difficult.