19 March 2008

CO2 Emissions In China Rocketing

by Kate Melville

The growth in China's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is far outpacing previous estimates, making the goal of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases even more difficult, say economists at the University of California.

The previous estimates used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict China will see a 2.5 to 5 percent annual increase in CO2 emissions between 2004 and 2010. However, the new University of California (UC) analysis, published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, puts the annual growth rate for China to at least 11 percent. Placed in perspective, the projected annual increase of CO2 in China over the next several years is greater than the current total emissions produced by either Great Britain or Germany.

Based upon these findings, the authors say current global warming forecasts are "overly optimistic," and that action is urgently needed to curb greenhouse gas production in China and other rapidly industrializing countries. "Making China and other developing countries an integral part of any future climate agreement is now even more important," said UC researcher Maximillian Auffhammer. "It had been expected that the efficiency of China's power generation would continue to improve as per capita income increased, slowing down the rate of CO2 emissions growth. What we're finding instead is that the emissions growth rate is surpassing our worst expectations, and that means the goal of stabilizing atmospheric CO2 is going to be much, much harder to achieve."

In explaining the startling differences in results from previous estimates for China's carbon emissions growth, the UC researchers point out that they used province-level figures in their analysis to obtain a more detailed picture of the country's CO2 emissions up to 2004. "Everybody had been treating China as single country, but each of the country's provinces is larger than many European countries, both in geographic size and population," said co-researcher Richard Carson. "In addition, there is a wide range in economic development and wealth from one province to the next, as well as major differences in population growth, all of which has an effect on energy consumption that cannot be easily addressed in models based upon aggregate national data."

The authors also point out that after 2000, China's central government began shifting the responsibility for building new power plants to provincial officials who had less incentive and fewer resources to build cleaner, more efficient plants, which save money in the long run but are more expensive to construct.

"Government officials turned away from energy efficiency as an objective to expanding power generation as quickly as they can, and as cheaply as they can," said Carson. "Wealthier coastal provinces tended to build clean-burning power plants based upon the very best technology available, but many of the poorer interior provinces replicated inefficient 1950s Soviet technology. The problem is that power plants, once built, are meant to last for 40 to 75 years. These provincial officials have locked themselves into a long-run emissions trajectory that is much higher than people had anticipated. Our forecast incorporates the fact that much of China is now stuck with power plants that are dirty and inefficient."

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Source: University of California - Berkeley