Twelve years ahead of schedule, a new report finds that China may already have had its worst year for carbon emissions—a sign that the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases could be well on its way to meeting the goals put forth by the Paris climate agreement.
"As part of the Paris Agreement, China pledged to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030. In retrospect, the commitment may have been fulfilled as it was being made," wrote several scientists who reported on their findings in Nature Geoscience on Tuesday.
The study found that China produced 9.2 billion tons of carbon in 2016, down from 9.5 billion tons in 2013. The emission levels of the country, which surpassed the U.S. as the world's biggest carbon producer in 2007, have declined every year from 2014 to 2016.
The downward slope represents "stability," according to Dabo Guan, a professor of climate change economics at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
"This is quite important, because it can play a demonstration role to the global South countries like India or Indonesia," Guan told the Daily Beast. "The future of climate change mitigation is in the hands of the global South countries."
Scientists are still determining emission levels for 2017 and 2018, and coal consumption in China went up last year—but the researchers' findings of major progress more than a decade before China's carbon emissions were set to be at their worst, provoked optimism in scientists who were not involved in the study.
"It looks like we have not yet reached that peak, but nevertheless I think it is within reach," Niklas Hohne, a partner at the Germany-based New Climate Institute, told the Daily Beast.
While President Donald Trump and other climate crisis-deniers have suggested that shifting toward renewable energy and away from pollution causing carbon would damage the United States' massive financial power, the report makes clear that China has cut its coal production and poured investments into solar and wind power at no cost to its economic might.
"They are able to manage quite significant economic growth, but have been able to stabilize their emissions over the past few years," said Guan.
Meanwhile President Donald Trump has slapped tariffs on solar panels as well as steel and aluminum imports, both of which have an adverse effect on the development of wind power. On Tuesday the president planned to unveil a rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, allowing states to decide for themselves if and how they will regulate coal production.