The transition from autocracy to democracy may lead a country to break-up. The break-ups of the USSR and Yugoslavia led to sharp falls in the level of emissions (while pre- and post-crisis trends are similar). If something like that would happen in China, an event with an unknown but small probability, projected emissions would fall by 50 % or more. The effect of a break-up on emissions in 2050 is larger than the difference between the SRES scenarios. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.