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China's CO2 emissions may grow faster than expected

11 March 2008

The growth in China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is far outpacing previous estimates, making the goal of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases much more difficult, according to a new analysis by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC San Diego.

Previous estimates, including those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, say the region that includes China will see a 2.5 to 5% annual increase in CO2 emissions, the largest contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases, between 2004 and 2010. The new UC analysis puts that annual growth rate for China to at least 11% for the same time period.

The researchers’ most conservative forecast predicts that by 2010, there will be an increase of 600 million metric tons of carbon emissions in China over the country’s levels in 2000. This growth from China alone would dramatically overshadow the 116 million metric tons of carbon emissions reductions pledged by all the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol. The projected annual increase in China alone over the next several years is greater than the current emissions produced by either Great Britain or Germany.

Based upon these findings, the authors said 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. The paper is challenging the belief that actions taken by the wealthy, industrialized nations alone represent a viable strategy towards the goal of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

In explaining the startling differences in results from previous estimates for China’s carbon emissions growth, the UC researchers pointed 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. Moreover, the researchers said, the majority of other studies forecasting China’s CO2 emissions relied upon information from nearly a decade ago. During the 1990s, per capita income was growing faster than the use of energy in China, which typically relates to slower growth in carbon emissions. But since around 2000, energy use started to grow faster than income, and much of the energy that was used was not efficient.

According to the study, much of China’s power is now generated by power plants that are dirty and inefficient. The country has locked itself into a long-run emissions trajectory, said the authors, as power plants, once built, are meant to last for 40 to 75 years.

The study, authored by Maximillian Auffhammer and Richard Carson, is scheduled for print publication in the May issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

Source: UC San Diego