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China’s 2005 Carbon Emissions Almost Twice As Much As 2002 Emissions

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



China will be able to get away with environmental murder until the US economy gets back on track and the US government gets out of debt with the Chi-Coms. China could bring the US to its knees right now if it tried to pull all of its money out of the country at once...but it wouldn't dare since the US is addicted to cheap Chinese goods like it is addicted to oil (it would be the "mutually assured destruction" of life as they & we knew it). We can't influence them on environmental matters or human rights issues right now & won't be able to for many years. At least we're keeping track of them though.


In my opinion this legitimises imposing a carbon tariff on goods imported from China. For administrative purposes it would have to be the same flat rate, say 20%, on everything from dog food to televisions. Of course the Chinese will say they are just catching up with Western per capita emissions. That has several responses such as their many millions of rural poor dilutes the urban emissions average and that they are just doing the dirtywork in the form of offshored manufacturing for the West. Note however the carbon tariff would hurt the Western consumer as well as the Chinese producer by making imports more expensive. Perhaps the tariff revenue could be split between countries as long as it goes to clean tech projects.

It is crazy for the West to have cap and trade schemes while China belches out so much pollution with impunity. If China runs short of coal neither the US nor Australia should export them any more coal. I also think that all uranium exports to China should be contingent on proveable CO2 reductions.


Aussie, if the US enacted a carbon tariff on China it would slit the throat of both countries, but the US would die first, and that death would make the current economic woes look like a birthday party.
If the Chinese government felt that were losing face and sold most of their holdings in US debt, they would take a bath, lose billions of dollars but they would survive in the short run. But it would destabilize the dollar and all dollar denominated trade and ruin the US credit rating for years. It would make Smoot-Hawley look trivial, due to the vastly more inter-connected nature of the global economy today. And remember, the US doesn't make much of anything except food nowadays. By the time we got our factories close to being opened up and producing, there wouldn't be any money to make the payroll or turn on the lights.
China will pollute as much as it feels it has to in order to keep on top of the tiger, (demographic, environmental and unemployment problems compounded by ethnocentrism) because if they slow down or try to get off this mad rush, the tiger will eat the Chinese leadership up and a great many of the chinese people will die as well.


IMO Ziv and eii are right.

Selective tariffs - against China alone - would be the worst possible way to tackle this. It would violate treaties and could prove our ruin. The fact that China would be hurt too is hardly comforting.

The Chinese might not dump their US Treasury securities but they sure wouldn't buy any more while they sorted out the jolt to their own economy.

China isn't short on coal. They import because it has been cheaper to boat it from Australia than to transport it clear across China. The imported coal is used near their seaports.

They have major sources now coming online from Mongolia. Alas, I understand it is very dirty coal.

Their government will accept severe difficulties - almost to economic and diplomatic suicide - before giving in. Do you think they have been making a profit from Tibet?

Their retaliations might not be effective but they would be certain. Boeing, for one, would be targeted immediately because they are a highly visible symbol of US industry.


I think eii, Aussie, Ziv and Ken are all mostly right on this.
Expect lots of leniency from the US on China's CO2 and human rights abuses.
Where did Hillary go and what did she already give away?
We are now dealing from weakness and it's getting worse - much worse - fast.
This unprecidented spending of multi- billions of dollars for pork barrel earmarks and the unilateral reduction of CO2 (on top of the trillions of dollars for bank and Detroit bailouts) are creating a world for our children worse than if Hitler had won.
Won't happen?
Just like "House prices will never collapse".


And for years the economists have been using their widget charts to try to convince us that shifting our manufacturing over to cheaper areas like China is a good thing. What I don't understand is this: back in the 50's, the US was a manufacturing nation. It was pretty much self sufficient, wasn't it? Everyone worked, it grew its own food, made its own cars. Now, despite all the technological innovations to supposedly make our lives easier, the US is crumbling to its knees. What is so good about this globalization? Why couldn't the US, 50 years ago, simply have shut its doors economically and kept on with doing what it was doing -- growing its own food, making its own products, using its own labour, and then using the advances in technology to do it even better? Why do these economist "experts" have to come in and screw everything up with their charts and theories?


You might have a very good point, BC.
As stated in wikipedia
Economists generally agree that trade barriers are detrimental and decrease overall economic efficiency.
And protectionism has never worked very well - but could it be worse than this?
The whole thing is very complex
It is difficult to balance the profit and competitive advantage for individual companies against the national interest - not that I assume very many politicians try to.
They care about money from corporations and unions.


BC and ToppaTom get to the root of the problem, but don't get to the probable solution. If international free trade is not working, a managed free trade would seem to be the logical reaction. There are certain elements and minerals that every nation absolutely needs, i.e. oil, chromium, iron, so the G-8 nation's would probably need to form alliances with resource rich nations that would benefit from the wealth and protection of the developed nations in a more mutually beneficial manner.
The US and Canada would probably bend over backwards to get un-tariffed access the resources of South America, while supplying the South American people with a quality education, better consumer goods and protection from violent, un-good terrorists.
In a like manner, the EU will probably form an alliance with Russia, and China will do so with most of the smaller Asian countries, though Australia may tie its future to the US.

All irony aside, hopefully, we will just muddle through with our present free trade and all of the friction it entails. Trade wars engendered by carbon tariffs would probably erase a great deal of the increase in wealth and health that the world has enjoyed in the past century. The problems we are having now are bad, but they are exception, not the norm. If we try to hide behind artificial trade barriers, 1984 may arrive late, but all too real.


Mark BC: I think the American corporations that became strong and prosperous in the 50's and 60's were interested simply in maximizing profits. It made sense (and IMHO still does) diplomatically & economically to trade (with the fewest amount of restrictions) with countries that are not hostile to us. American companies will continue to follow the path of least resistance to the largest profits wherever they exist, social responsibility be damned (unless command-and-control bureaucracies slap them around with rules and regulations). All Americans are to blame for our current globalized economic predicament...if you want are going to buy American or buy nothing at all, you are going to be a broke hillbilly (relatively speaking) in this modern era. Economic isolationism does not really make sense, as politically attractive as it is for some politicians.


"Selective tariffs - against China alone - would be the worst possible way to tackle this. It would violate treaties and could prove our ruin."

This is true, but there may be a way to apply a price advantage to low carbon goods, in general. Simply waiver the collection of sales taxes on any item that's Green Seal certified-

This wouldn't target China directly because any Chinese company that can be certified would benefit just as any US company that didn't get certified would not benefit. Of course, with their poor environmental and labor standards, how many do you think actually could be certified?


The USA's main import problem is oil; we export major commodities like iron ore (or did).  If we can electrify our transport and use nuclear to feed it, we can kill both the import-oil and carbon-emission birds with one stone.


China the most polluted country on earth. And its biggest export is that pollution. Costing the entire population billions in increased health and clean up costs.

China's minority rule party and its handlers are directly responsible for the debacle. This, combined with human rights failures and totalitarian support of repressive regimes in Burma and Tibet - make China the world's worst citizen.

On top of that, their factories are suffering massive bankruptcies and closings. The pattern is worker unrest, worker uprising, and then revolt. The total implosion of the China miracle is rapidly approaching in large part because its handlers refused to clean up its repugnant human rights violations along with its dirty energy.


China is responsible for the loss of millions of American jobs by manipulating its currency.  It's ridiculous to assert that our only option is to let them continue this; Chinese goods should be hit with a 30% tariff and we should offer to buy some of the factories back (or demand that China send them back as a condition of being allowed to invest in dollars).

The US and Europe should withdraw from the WTO and form a new trading bloc which measures pollutant emissions and bills them to the products and services which are responsible for them.  This means getting rid of "cap and trade" and instituting straight taxes on carbon, methane, CF4, and all the rest.  Goods from outside the bloc should be hit with the maximum tariff on any in-bloc good in the same category, plus a penalty factor.  China can either join and control its emissions, or not join and watch its exports become completely non-competitive.  There is no downside to this.

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