by Jack Rosebro
|Carbon emissions associated with increased exports from China (left), as part of a more systematic view of increased national emissions (right), 2002 to 2005. Guan et al. (2009) Click to enlarge.|
Energy efficiency gains in a rapidly modernizing China “cannot cope” with skyrocketing emissions caused by increased exports as well as domestic consumption, according to the paper “Journey to world’s top emitter,” published 27 February in Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers from Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, estimated in the study that China’s 2005 carbon emissions were 80.59% or more higher than 2002 emissions.
“It is easier to understand the growth in China’s carbon emissions,” note the authors of the paper, “by considering which consumption activities—households and government, capital investments, and international trade—drive Chinese production and hence emissions.”
Using data from national statistical offices, they found that China’s export-related industrial production rose by an average of 26% per year from 2002 to 2007. By 2005, exports—particularly metals, electronics, textiles, and chemicals—accounted for a third of China’s GDP, as compared to just 12% in 1987.
...Chinese export production is responsible for one-half of the emission increase. Capital formation contributes to one-third of the emission increase. A fast growing component is carbon emissions related to consumption of services by urban households and governmental institutions, which are responsible for most of the remaining emissions.
...While power plant efficiencies are increasing due to intense efforts to install and retrofit with best available coal technology in order to meet the 2010 energy efficiency goal, it is clear that these efforts are not keeping pace with growing electricity demand.—Guan et al. (2009)
Coal remains the country’s dominant source of primary energy at 70%, and although China’s current Five-Year Plan calls for a 20% reduction in energy intensity by 2010 as compared to 2005, that goal is almost certain to remain elusive. Data from the China Electricity Council shows that annual electric power generating capacity rose from 350 GW in 2002 to more than 505 GW in 2007.
The scale of current expansion is significant: for example, China recently commenced construction of a new energy and chemical complex in Ningdong that will produce 130 million tons of coal and add another 16GW of generating capacity by 2020 (earlier post).
Emissions growth from 2002 to 2005 was largely driven by two factors: structural changes in production and increased consumption per capita. Manufacturing in particular rose from around 38% in 2002 to 46% by 2005, with almost two-thirds of electronics destined for the US, the European Union, or Japan. Some manufacturing sectors expanded faster than others; Chinese production of televisions in 2005, for example, was four times 2002 production.
Although household consumption has not kept pace with industrial expansion, it nevertheless rose 7% per year from 2002 to 2005, largely fueled by increased wealth in urban areas. Per capita gasoline consumption rose by almost a third in 2005 as compared to 2002, from 29 to 38 liters. US gasoline consumption per capita now stands at 1,783 liters, according to the authors of the paper.
Guan, D., G. P. Peters, C. L. Weber, and K. Hubacek (2009), Journey to world top emitter: An analysis of the driving forces of China's recent CO2 emissions surge, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L04709, doi: 10.1029/2008GL036540