Nearly three-quarters of the growth in global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production between 2010 and 2012 occurred in China1,2. Yet estimates of Chinese emissions remain subject to large uncertainty; inventories of China’s total fossil fuel carbon emissions in 2008 differ by 0.3 gigatonnes of carbon, or 15 per cent1,3,4,5. The primary sources of this uncertainty are conflicting estimates of energy consumption and emission factors, the latter being uncertain because of very few actual measurements representative of the mix of Chinese fuels. Here we re-evaluate China’s carbon emissions using updated and harmonized energy consumption and clinker production data and two new and comprehensive sets of measured emission factors for Chinese coal. We find that total energy consumption in China was 10 per cent higher in 2000–2012 than the value reported by China’s national statistics6, that emission factors for Chinese coal are on average 40 per cent lower than the default values recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change7, and that emissions from China’s cement production are 45 per cent less than recent estimates1,4. Altogether, our revised estimate of China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production is 2.49 gigatonnes of carbon (2 standard deviations = ±7.3 per cent) in 2013, which is 14 per cent lower than the emissions reported by other prominent inventories1,4,8. Over the full period 2000 to 2013, our revised estimates are 2.9 gigatonnes of carbon less than previous estimates of China’s cumulative carbon emissions1,4. Our findings suggest that overestimation of China’s emissions in 2000–2013 may be larger than China’s estimated total forest sink in 1990–2007 (2.66 gigatonnes of carbon)9 or China’s land carbon sink in 2000–2009 (2.6 gigatonnes of carbon)10.

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This work was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program “Climate Change: Carbon Budget and Relevant Issues” of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and by China’s National Basic Research Program and National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) funded projects (grants XDA05010109, 2014CB441301, XDA05010110, XDA05010103, XDA05010101, 41328008 and 41222036). Z.L. acknowledges Harvard University Giorgio Ruffolo fellowship and support from Italy’s Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea. D.G. acknowledges the Economic and Social Research Council funded project “Dynamics of Green Growth in European and Chinese Cities” (ES/L016028) and the Philip Leverhulme Prize. S.J.D. acknowledges support from the Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences Fellowships for Young International Distinguished Scientists. P.C. and S.P. acknowledge support of the European Research Council Synergy grant ERC-2013-SyG 610028-IMBALANCE-P. R.J.A. and T.A.B. were sponsored by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research under US Department of Energy contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. J. Lin acknowledges the NSFC (41422502 and 41175127). J. Liu acknowledges the International Science & Technology Cooperation Program of China (2012DFA91530), the NSFC (41161140353, 91425303), The Natural Science Foundation of Beijing, China (8151002), the National Program for Support of Top-notch Young Professionals, and Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (TD-JC-2013-2). F.X. acknowledges the NSFC (41473076), China CDM Fund (2013051, 2013124) and Shenyang Science and Technology Planning (F14-232-6-01, F14-134-9-00). G.P.P. acknowledges funding from the Norwegian Research Council (235523). The authors are grateful to S. Piao, L. Cao and J. Yan for insightful comments.

Author information


  1. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Zhu Liu
  2. Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China

    • Zhu Liu
    • , Steven J. Davis
    •  & Fengming Xi
  3. Resnick Sustainability Institute, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • Zhu Liu
  4. Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Earth System Modeling, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Dabo Guan
    • , Qiang Zhang
    • , Hongyan Zhao
    •  & Chaopeng Hong
  5. School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Dabo Guan
    •  & Yuan Li
  6. CAS Key Laboratory of Low-carbon Conversion Science and Engineering, Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 201203, China

    • Wei Wei
  7. Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA

    • Steven J. Davis
  8. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, CE Orme des Merisiers, 91191 Gif sur Yvette Cedex, France

    • Philippe Ciais
    •  & Shushi Peng
  9. State Key Laboratory of Coal Conversion, Institute of Coal Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Science, Taiyuan 030001, China

    • Jin Bai
  10. CNRS and UJF Grenoble 1, Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Geophysique de l’Environnement (LGGE, UMR5183), 38041 Grenoble, France

    • Shushi Peng
  11. Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA

    • Klaus Hubacek
    •  & Kuishuang Feng
  12. Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina 28608, USA

    • Gregg Marland
  13. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA

    • Robert J. Andres
    •  & Thomas A. Boden
  14. Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, 19 Silver Street, Cambridge CB3 9EP, UK

    • Douglas Crawford-Brown
  15. Laboratory for Climate and Ocean–Atmosphere Studies, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Jintai Lin
  16. State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, School of Environment, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Chaopeng Hong
    •  & Kebin He
  17. Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo (CICERO), N-0318 Oslo, Norway

    • Glen P. Peters
  18. CAS Key Laboratory of Pollution Ecology and Environmental Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China

    • Fengming Xi
  19. School of Nature Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 10083, China

    • Junguo Liu
  20. Ecosystems Services & Management Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria

    • Junguo Liu
  21. School of Environmental Science and Engineering, South University of Science and Technology of China, Shenzhen 518055, China

    • Junguo Liu
  22. State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control & Resource Reuse and School of the Environment, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China

    • Yu Zhao
  23. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science and Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742-2425, USA

    • Ning Zeng
  24. Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100029, China

    • Ning Zeng


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Z.L. and D.G. designed the paper. Z.L. conceived the research. Z.L. provided the data from 4,243 coal mines. W.W. and J.B. provided the measurement data from 602 coal samples. S.J.D., J.B., Q.Z., R.J.A. and T.A.B. provided the reference data. Z.L., D.G., S.J.D., P.C., S.P., J.L., H.Z., C.H., Y.L. and Q.Z. performed the analysis. S.J.D., S.P., Z.L., H.Z. and K.F. drew the figures. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Zhu Liu or Dabo Guan or Wei Wei or Kebin He.

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