NEWS FLASH – China is now world’s largest CO2 emitter.

This is hot off the press and will shoot around the world, throwing global politics into crisis over climate change negotiations. How does a ‘developing’ country, now the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, get pulled into negotiations to cap carbon emissions?

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, report that soaring demand for coal to generate electricity and a surge in cement production have helped to push China’s recorded emissions for 2006 beyond those from the US already. It says China produced 6,200m tonnes of CO2 last year, compared with 5,800m tonnes from the US. Britain produced about 600m tonnes.

Earlier this month, China unveiled its first national plan on climate change after two years of preparation by 17 government ministries. Rather than setting a direct target for the reduction or avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, it now aims to reduce energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20% by 2010 and to increase the share of renewable energy to some 10%, as well as to cover roughly 20% of the nation’s land with forest.

But it stressed that technology and costs are major barriers to achieving energy efficiency in China, and that it will be hard to alter the nation’s dependency on coal in the short term. What China needs, said a government spokesman, is international cooperation in helping China move toward a low-carbon economy. Chinese industries have been hesitant to embrace unproven clean coal and carbon capture technologies that are still in their infancy in developed countries.

More from an excellent article over at The Guardian

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22 Responses to NEWS FLASH – China is now world’s largest CO2 emitter.

  1. suburbanlife says:

    Thanks for this information! It is little surprise that this is the case, as China is a rapidly developing country, people there feel entitled to live the same kind of lifestyle as do people in most developed western nations. The kind of progress the Chinese have made directly relates to their massive pollution, with further progress comes further pollution, and so forth. Any possible solutions call up difficult questions which have answers and solutions not many people are willing to accept, as these changes would impede processes of progress, and we know progress is a revered concept.

  2. matt says:

    The Chinese have some of the world’s largest coal deposits. Match this with the world’s biggest population, who are hungry for progress (or a better life) and they aren’t going to be giving up on coal.

    Their politicians are hinting loudly that they want the ‘west’ to share clean coal technology and no doubt subsidize the cost. I think Bush muttered something recently about being willing to do this, share the technology that is. Not sure about the financing of it!

    The interesting thing now will be to see how the US plays the CC card, especially as they appear no longer to be the No.1 polluter on total emissions. Of course they still are on a per capita basis but, the general public (voters) will probably choose to miss that point!

  3. Dave On Fire says:

    The Chinese government are pretty environmentally irresponsible, certainly – ask anyone whose river they’ve dammed. But on carbon emissions, I feel I have to come to China’s defense.

    As you point out, per capita the Chinese are still way behind the West. But these are emissions generated in the country, which is not really representative of footprints. A vast proportion of China’s emissions are generated by the manufacture of consumer tat for European and American consumers.

    In a poor, underdeveloped and coal-rich country, it will be a challenge raising standards of living without pushing pollution through the roof, but we have to recognise the current increase in Chinese pollution for what it is. And, by and large, that’s not a billion people polluting their way to a better life – it’s ‘us’ getting our smelliest and most dangerous factories away from our own backyards.

  4. matt says:

    > that’s not a billion people polluting their way to a better life – it’s ‘us’ getting our smelliest and most dangerous factories away from our own backyards.

    Bang on the button as usual Dave. Makes you wonder really if the world economy as a whole really has a chance of reducing CO2 emissions. Moving production around the world, making some countries look clean and others dirty, is not helpful when trying to educate the public that it’s not about a blame game, country vs country but, a problem needing a shared and global response.

  5. Pete Smith says:

    And when it comes to blaming China specifically, I suspect a large proportion of ‘us’ don’t have a clue why the emissions are generated: manufacturing, transport, electricity. I was talking to someone the other day who supposed it must be due to exhaling and farting. The connection between a plastic gizmo in the UK and emissions in China may be obvious to some of us, but the ‘Man on the Clapham omnibus’ is generally oblivious.
    Don’t forget India: their coal consumption, along with China’s, is forecast to increase by 3% a year between 2006 and 2030, compared with an increase of 0.6% a year for OECD countries.
    ‘Coal Still King In India And China’ –

  6. matt says:

    Even the UK has muttered something recently about using more coal. Although the market apparently still dictates that the UK continues to import it.

    Hey, what the hell, lets all jump on the bandwagon and belch out the black stuff. Never did like winter. 🙂

  7. Pete Smith says:

    There’s an awful lot more coal left than there is oil and gas. Once the implications of declining oil production and rapidly increasing demand are fully absorbed, we’ll all be ‘Boys from the Black Stuff”.

    (smiley free zone)

  8. matt says:

    (smiley free zone)

    You feeling morbid again Pete?

  9. Pete Smith says:

    Must stop reading Edgar Allan Poe

    And James Howard Kunstler. And Richard Heinberg. And …..

    I must be temperamentally unsuited to optimism. 😎

  10. Dave On Fire says:

    I take it the Coffee House is pretty pessimistic about sequestration, then? Can’t say I know enough on the subject, I’ve read convincing arguments both ways, but if coal could be burned cleanly it would make the 21st century a lot simpler.

  11. matt says:

    > sequestration

    It’s probably the way forward Dave. Let me hand you over to the US Dept of Energy;

    ‘Atmospheric levels of CO2 have risen from preindustrial levels of 280 parts per million (ppm) to present levels of 375 ppm. Evidence suggests this observed rise in atmospheric CO2 levels is due primarily to expanding use of fossil fuels for energy. Predictions of global energy use in the next century suggest a continued increase in carbon emissions and rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere unless major changes are made in the way we produce and use energy—in particular, how we manage carbon. One way to manage carbon is to use energy more efficiently to reduce our need for a major energy and carbon source—fossil fuel combustion. Another way is to increase our use of low-carbon and carbon-free fuels and technologies (nuclear power and renewable sources such as solar energy, wind power, and biomass fuels). Both approaches are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The third and newest way to manage carbon is through carbon sequestration.

    Carbon sequestration refers to the provision of long-term storage of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere, underground, or the oceans so that the buildup of carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas) concentration in the atmosphere will reduce or slow. In some cases, this is accomplished by maintaining or enhancing natural processes; in other cases, novel techniques are developed to dispose of carbon. DOE’s Office of Science is focusing its carbon sequestration efforts on:

    Sequestering Carbon in Underground Geologic Repositories: Geosciences research related to understanding the geophysics and geochemistry of potential reservoirs appropriate for subsurface sequestration of carbon dioxide.’

    More links on their site.

    Interesting, you’ll note from the quote above that the US Dept of Energy points strongly to accepting that increased CO2 levels are caused by human fossil fuel use, although they don’t mention/link CC.

  12. Dave On Fire says:

    Sorry, I think I got my terminology mixed up there; sequestration from the atmosphere seems a bit pie-in-the-sky (especially compared to methods 1 and 2), but I thought there was a way of removing it straight at the smokestacks thus allowing coal to be burned more cleanly.

  13. matt says:

    > I thought there was a way of removing it straight at the smokestacks thus allowing coal to be burned more cleanly.

    That’s what carbon sequestration is aiming to do but, rather than throw the fumes out of smokestacks, it would be piped underground. Sounds dodgy to me but I ain’t no expert!

    This visual seems to show just H2O leaving the smoke(vapour)stack;

  14. Pingback: The Coffee House on China « Scorched Earth

  15. the Grit says:

    Hi y’all,

    Of course the Chinese, and every other country that is clawing its way into modern life, is going to pollute like crazy, since that is the cheapest way to go. However, this may not be all bad.

    On one hand, as we can see from history, as the standard of living and level of education in a country increases, its population tends to decline. Less people, less pollution, give a cheer. Also, on this note, the same factors move a country toward wanting a cleaner environment, once they can afford it. Another cheer.

    On the other hand, the pollution from less clean coal burning technology is soot and sulfur. Both of these, as I understand it, have a cooling effect on climate. Thus, we might not want to be in a big rush for China to adopt clean burning coal technology, since it limits the output to only CO2

    On the gripping hand, since the revised temperature data from 2006 shows that we have been in a cooling trend for the last 8 years, CO2 output may be mostly irrelevant.

    the Grit

  16. matt says:

    Let’s remember a very simple fact. Coal, oil & gas have been formed over millions of years. Human beings have been busy burning the stuff over the last 150 years on an industrial scale.

    That plays with the earth’s carbon cycle by throwing out all those CO2 fumes as we burn those fuels. More carbon is in the oceans and atmosphere than 150 years ago and less stored underground.

    I have a respect for the planet to regulate chemical balance. (Leaving aside shock effects from space.) We like to think the planet rebalances or adjusts itself to human excesses. We don’t actually have that much certainty whereby we know that earth can actually handle our excesses.

    Common sense would seem to tell us that altering the carbon balance between carbon locked into the earth’s crust and that released into the atmosphere and oceans will have a knock on effect. That affect is a warming planet which is making the weather systems more unstable. Carbon is the central building block of life after all so this shouldn’t be surprising.

    If as a species we choose to continue polluting as we are, fine, we’ll have to take the hits from the erratic weather as they come. Like a boxer being pummelled. Of course the boxer will eventually collapse. But hey, lets enjoy the game while we can.

    Or, we can present the audience with a decathlon. Mix things up a bit. In other words, take different approaches to energy use, consumption and waste. Human beings are clever! It can and is being done as we speak. US venture capital is leading the way. There’s markets out there to be explored. Those cowboys are back on their horses again, with a wild glint in their eye. 🙂 There’s money to be made! And one of the biggest markets is dirty old China.

    Simple really.

  17. Stephan says:

    The US’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels fell 1.4 per cent last year; they remained almost the same in the European Union, and rose in China by 8.7 per cent. I find the rate of growth in Chinese emissions is truly terrifying! Remember, they are almost starting from scratch, using current mainstream technologies to build their new infrastructure, which means they will have the most efficient industries of their type in the world. If the West can only manage a meagre 1.4 per cent improvement with all the latest gadgets, then I can’t see much of a curbing of growth in emissions let alone a reduction for quite some time.

  18. Stephan says:

    Wikipedia does a good overview on Carbon Capture:

    Key points being that it could represent between 10% – 55% of our total mitigation efforts by 2100. But that the cost on our energy bills could rise by between 30% – 60%.

    The large ranges are a bit of a giveaway, we don’t really know if it will work on a large enough scale, or at what cost.

  19. Dave On Fire says:

    Actually Stephan, for economic reasons the immense growth in China, India etc. is mainly done with low-tech and dirty technology. That’s what prompted Paul Roberts, in his book The End Of Oil, to say that the best thing we in the West can do to facilitate a shift to a sustainable post-oil economy is to stop treating Third World countries like our colonies and help them develop on their own terms.

    As for all the latest gadgets… there’s a tacit assumption that energy consumption is proportional with quality of life. Of course food, housing, schools, hospitals and all that need energy to run – put a lot of our energy is pissed away on rubbish. We can live perfectly well with far fewer gadgets and widgets, and it’s something we will all have to learn to do.

    But that would mean facing up to the reality that sustainability is not compatible with perpetual growth.

  20. matt says:

    > We can live perfectly well with far fewer gadgets and widgets, and it’s something we will all have to learn to do.

    Not sure anyone will accept giving up on the internet Dave! I think The Green Grid initiative, which The Coffee House have blogged recently, is the positive way forward regards the power hungry data/internet/server arena. An example of how gadgetry can be less energy intensive in future.

    > Actually Stephan, for economic reasons the immense growth in China, India etc. is mainly done with low-tech and dirty technology.

    Yes, on balance I’d say you’re right that most energy technology currently used in China will be the cheaper polluting option. Where are however some new power stations going in that have the latest technology, around Shanghai for example. It probably varies region by region in China.

    > The End Of Oil, to say that the best thing we in the West can do to facilitate a shift to a sustainable post-oil economy is to stop treating Third World countries like our colonies and help them develop on their own terms.

    This statement says absolutely nothing. Did you miss out an important part of the quote? Because if that paragraph was put onto his book’s cover as a selling point, I’d laugh and throw the book back into the comedy section. 🙂

  21. Dave On Fire says:

    I would not advocate we give up the internet, but I still think it’s worth recognising the difference between all-you-can-eat and all-you-want-to-eat. In a perpetual-growth monetary system, anything someone can make money out of is worth producing and consuming; you can get rid of a lot of that without giving up anything you care much about.

    As to the “comedy section”, the paragraph only says nothing in the absence of context on globalisation. As popular movements threatened the European empires in the mid 20th century, we dismantled the formal structures of empire in favour of an economic model in which we continued to rule by default anyway. All the newly-independent colonies ran up debts pretty quickly – with a lot of help from rich nation states and the international banking institutions they command – and these debts were used as a control tool very much in the manner of “favours” from the mafia.

    These debts were used to get a lot of cooperation out of the developing countries, not least of which was “structuralling adjusting” their economies to the ultraliberal Washington Consensus, in which everything must be privatised and controlled by international stockholders. That prices education, healthcare, and sometimes even food, out of the reach of the poor majority, and makes building a functioning economy almost impossible. In fact the major success stories of globalisation – e.g. South Korea – are from the countries who most strongly rejected the Washington Consensus.

    Add to this the hypocrisy with which the US and EU governments use disguised import blocks to protect their markets from competition while subsidising agriculture to export at below-market price – yet use their control of the WTO to prevent any poor countries from “interefering” in their economies – and what do you get? The big decisions regarding the world economy are made in Washington, New York, Geneva, Munich and London, and those decisions see people working often like slaves in poor countries, their produce and their natural resources being taken out faster than you can say East India Company.

    This isn’t the focus of Roberts’ book, which investigates how we can meet the challenges of Peak Oil. However, he comes to the conclusion that a lot of work will be needed from both rich and poor countries – then points out, in the final chapters, that poor countries are in no position to do so given the economic stranglehold in which they are held. The theme of globalisation is explored in depth in very accessible book called Globalisation And Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz, a nobel-prize winning economist who worked in important positions in both the World Bank and the Clinton administration before leaving to “blow the whistle”.

  22. matt says:

    Yup, well aware of the west’s strangle hold over poor countries via various instruments of trickery. It never ceases to amaze me just how paranoid and selfish the west is.

    > Globalisation And Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz

    Sounds good. Having little kids as I do, finding time to read such things is somewhat of a challenge. I’m part way through a book called Mao and what a complete bastard he was!

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