China emissions study suggests climate change could be faster than thought

SINGAPORE/BEIJING Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:03pm EDT

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SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) - China's carbon emissions could be nearly 20 percent higher than previously thought, a new analysis of official Chinese data showed on Sunday, suggesting the pace of global climate change could be even faster than currently predicted.

China has already overtaken the United States as the world's top greenhouse gas polluter, producing about a quarter of mankind's carbon pollution that scientists say is heating up the planet and triggering more extreme weather.

But pinning down an accurate total for China's carbon emissions has long been a challenge because of doubts about the quality of its official energy use data.

It is that data which is used to compute how the planet's climate will change, helping plan for more extremes of drought, flood and the impact on crops.

"The sad fact is that Chinese energy and emission data as primary input to the models will add extra uncertainty in modelling simulations of predicting future climatic change," say the authors of a study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The team of scientists from China, Britain and the United States, led by Dabo Guan of the University of Leeds, studied two sets of energy data from China's National Bureau of Statistics. One set presented energy use for the nation, the other for its provinces.

They compiled the carbon dioxide (CO2) emission inventories for China and its 30 provinces for the period 1997-2010 and found a big difference between the two datasets.


"The paper identifies a 1.4-billion tonne emission gap (in 2010) between the two datasets. This implies greater uncertainties than ever in Chinese energy statistics," Guan, a senior lecturer at the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds University, told Reuters in an emailed response to questions.

That is slightly more than the annual emissions of Japan, one of the world's top-five greenhouse gas polluters.

Guan added the China is not the only country with inconsistent energy data.

Scientists say the world is already racing towards a warming of 2 degrees Celsius or more in coming decades because of the rapid growth in emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Adding another billion tonnes into computer models would accelerate the pace of expected warming.

According to Chinese national statistics, on average, CO2 emissions have been growing 7.5 percent annually from 1997 to 7.69 billion tonnes in 2010, the authors say in the study.

In contrast, aggregated emissions of all Chinese provinces have increased 8.5 percent on average to 9.08 billion tonnes in 2010.

By comparison, U.S. emissions were 6.87 billion tonnes in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

The scientists said differences in reported coal consumption and processing at the provincial level were the main contributors to the discrepancy in energy statistics.

The findings also expose the challenges China faces in introduce emissions trading schemes, which need accurate measurement, reporting and verification of energy use and carbon pollution at the local and national level.

Yang Fuqiang, a former Chinese energy official and senior adviser for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing, said provinces routinely underestimate both their carbon emissions and their energy utilisation rates.

"I would say the biggest concern about the accuracy and reliability of (China's emissions) data is coal - and that comes from too many small coal mines supplying small enterprises and industrial plants. They have no monitoring systems and generally speaking, they are also avoiding tax," he said.

With provinces now under pressure to meet targets, they are now likely to underestimate emissions, he added.

China is committed to reducing energy intensity - the amount produced per unit of GDP - by 16 percent over the 2011-2015 period, and carbon intensity by 17 percent. It also plans to cap total energy use at 4.1 billion tonnes of standard coal by 2015.

(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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Comments (8)
InlandTaipan wrote:
China is so much more interested in CONTROLLING and SUBJUGATING its people and poisoning the rest of the planet and its people with their exportation of toxic killing products produced in their country than spending money and researching ways to stop its massive, world-wide polluting of the planet or cleaning up its water systems,or spending money on its army so the old bull commies can retain control of more than a billion people, (1,000,000,000), who seem to have no brains or mind of their own.

Jun 10, 2012 6:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
MikeBee wrote:
Since they lie to their citizens about the daily air quality in Beijing, why would they not lie about any other emissions?

Since they steal copyrighted material, persecute religions, force abortions, violate basic human rights and hate democracy, the question becomes why do US Christian citizens continue to support their country by buying their goods?

If you want jobs in the USA, buy stuff made in the USA! It may be more expensive, buy we are the home team.

Jun 10, 2012 7:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Critical wrote:
I find this article’s suggestion that global warming could be “much faster” to be outrageous. First, correlation is not causality. Though the increase in CO2 and temperature increases were linearly correlated over a period of decades, no one has proven direct causality between CO2 and the warming that did take place. The incidence of obese people as compared to growth in the generation of wind and solar power also has a similar correlation. Using the same logic, I suppose we should increase obesity in order to increase the use of renewables. Second, global temperatures have delinked from the linear correlation previously used as “evidence”. Third, the author of the article fails to understand another conclusion that can be drawn from the fact that emissions have been underreported historically; namely, that emissions have been higher in the past and that this would mean that warming in the real world took place slower than what the model states. Finally, this author seems to be entirely ignorant of the fact that mathematical models are not reality. The statement “Adding another billion tonnes into computer models would accelerate the pace of expected warming” seems to suggest that he lives in a modeled fantasy land rather than in reality. In summary, the author seems to have no scientific background, no educational foundation in critical thinking, is unaware of the facts behind the issue and appears to have made some rather bizarre conclusions in order to pursue a pet political agenda.

Jun 11, 2012 9:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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