Recent data show that China's annual carbon dioxide emissions were lower in 2015 than the year before, and that "it is even plausible that China's emissions could have peaked in 2014," according to a report published Monday by two British institutes.
The authors of the report suggest that China's international commitment to peak carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 was a highly conservative estimate by a government that takes commitment to climate change seriously and wants to guarantee it meets international agreements.
The report was carried out by scholars from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the London School of Economics and Political Science. It was published by Grantham and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy.
According to the report, it is quite possible that China's emissions will fall modestly from now on, implying that 2014 was the peak, and if emissions do grow above 2014 levels, "that growth trajectory is likely to be relatively flat."
The recent decline in emissions is attributed in large part to a fall in energy demand resulting from China's economic slowdown, according to the report.
The authors expect the Chinese economy to continue to shift away from energy-intensive heavy industries, such as steel and cement production, and towards an expansion of the service sector and more innovative forms of manufacturing, such as robotics and renewable energy technology. High levels of investment in low-carbon energy and a decline in coal consumption have also contributed to falling emissions.
"China is currently undergoing another major structural transformation -- towards a new development model focused on achieving better quality growth that is more sustainable and inclusive -- and it is also grappling with economic challenges associated with the transition," the authors say in the report.
The authors warn that countries should pay close attention to the changing structure of China's economy, or risk missing out on the opportunities to be gained from investing in the low-carbon economy.