Main­land China’s emis­sions over­es­ti­mated by UN: study


The United Na­tions and other in­ter­na­tional bod­ies have vastly over­es­ti­mated main­land China’s green­house gas emis­sions over the last decade or more, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased Wed­nes­day.

In 2013, for ex­am­ple, China’s to­tal car­bon emis­sions were 14 per­cent less than the fig­ures used by the U.N.’s panel of ex­perts tasked with pro­vid­ing the sci­en­tific frame­work for global cli­mate talks, the re­search showed.

From 2000 to 2013, the coun­try pro­duced nearly three bil­lion tonnes less car­bon than pre­vi­ously thought — a fig­ure equiv­a­lent to roughly a third of cur­rent global an­nual emis­sions.

The new es­ti­mate does

not change China’s rank as world’s top car­bon pol­luter.

“China’s to­tal emis­sions as a coun­try are still well above the sec­ond big emit­ter, which is the United States,” com­mented Corinne Le Quere, di­rec­tor of the Tyn­dall Cen­tre for Cli­mate Change Re­search in East Anglia.

Nor does it change the over­all cli­mate pic­ture — sci­en­tists have long tracked the at­mo­spheric in­crease in heat-trap­ping car­bon diox­ide with great pre­ci­sion.

But only months ahead of U.N. talks tasked with forg­ing a plan­et­sav­ing cli­mate pact, it does high­light the im­por­tance of hav­ing good data, ex­perts say.

The er­ror in this case comes from the dif­fi­culty of mea­sur­ing China’s mas­sive con­sump­tion of coal, said the study, pub­lished in

the the peer-re­viewed jour­nal Na­ture.

Pre­vi­ous cal­cu­la­tions did not suf­fi­ciently take into ac­count the fact that China — which con­sumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world com­bined — pro­duces and uses a par­tic­u­larly poor grade of the fos­sil fuel.

“China burns much lower qual­ity coal, which has a lower heat value and car­bon con­tent com­pared to the coal burned in the U.S. and Europe,” ex­plained co- au­thor Dabo Guan, a re­searcher at Ts­inghua Univer­sity in Bei­jing.

Even if this “dirt­ier” coal cre­ates more lo­cal air pol­lu­tion, in other words, its lower energy con­tent also trans­lates into lower car­bon diox­ide emis­sions.

The other fac­tor that al­lowed for the new, more ac­cu­rate esti- mate is China’s ef­forts in gath­er­ing data, ex­perts say.

‘China de­serves praise’

“Good ac­count­ing is hard enough for a sin­gle fac­tory, but for a na­tion the size of China the sheet num­ber and di­ver­sity of emis­sions sources” makes it a mon­u­men­tal task, said Dave Reay, a pro­fes­sor of car­bon man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh.

“China de­serves praise,” said Le Quere. “It is a big coun­try, they have a lot of dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries. It shows a de­sire to im­prove on the sta­tis­tics they pro­vide.”

Nearly three- quar­ters of the growth in global car­bon out­put from the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els and ce­ment pro­duc­tion be­tween 2010 and 2012 oc­curred in China.

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