China is responsible for almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year and is the single biggest polluter of carbon dioxide (CO₂). More than 1.6 million Chinese citizens are estimated to die each year from illnesses associated with the significant air pollution plaguing many built up areas in China. In response to the escalating severity of pollution and increasing global pressure, the Chinese government is now taking steps to reduce emissions.
At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in November 2015, China committed to reducing its overall emissions by 26% by 2025. This framework also signalled China’s intention to reach its CO₂ peak early and increase its non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 20% by 2030.
Gas flaring and venting makes up a substantial proportion of China’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with production accounting for the emission of 569 million tonnes of CO₂ into the atmosphere, from a total annual output of 7,467 million tonnes.
Chinese regulation is much less stringent when compared to legislation governing countries like the United States and the European Union. Current rules governing the flaring and venting of gas state that flammable gas should be recycled, but in the event of a breakdown of the recycling device, the flammable gas must be fully burned. Should sulphurous gas be discharged, a desulphurisation device must be used or other desulphurisation measures must be taken to minimise the impact on the environment. Unlike in Europe, Chinese offshore facilities are held to the same standards as onshore productions, meaning that all gas must be flared through a burner.
While the Law on the Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution states that any flammable gas should, in principle, be recycled, the actual enforcement of regulations like these falls to local environmental protection authorities who often prove ineffective. This has led to many western oil and gas companies who have operations in China to instead adhere to the standards required of them in their own native markets.
As China continues to undergo a restructuring of its energy sector—moving away from an overreliance on fossil fuels towards renewable energies— the country is making progress towards reducing its GHG emissions. A vital part of this process will need to include increased regulation and enforcement to both limit the amount of gas that is being flared and vented into the atmosphere, and to monitor its impact on the environment.