China Carbon Emissions “Worse Than Previously Thought” – Will We Ever Catch a Break with Climate Change?

China's carbon emissions higher than expectedThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated growth in China’s carbon emissions at 2.5 to 5% through the period of 2004 through 2010.

This may be far too conservative.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and San Diego, writing in the May issue of Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, report the actual emissions growth in China for the same period is actually more like 11% per year, a fact that makes mitigating global carbon emissions much harder than previously thought – and it wasn’t going to be a cake walk in any case.

According to news reports, the last time scientists assessed China’s contribution to global carbon emissions and climate change was in the late 1990’s, when Asia was in a recession and China’s current “growth spurt” hadn’t yet taken hold. The IPCC has generally based their modeling on conservative data (as we’ve seen in other projections such as arctic sea ice melt, which reached record levels in 2007, much sooner than expected).

But now with rapid and accelerating growth in many parts of the developing world, scientists and economists are updating their projections and, based on trends of the past several years, it is clear the China’s emissions growth is more than we bargained for.

Lest we all hunker down into an isolationist and accusatory stance, it’s probably best to consider where it is that last bobble, do-dad, or dangle we bought at Wal-Mart came from – most likely it came from China. Our economy depends on China, whether we like that idea or not.

China must take responsibility for its own energy economy, just like everybody else. But this is no excuse for the United States and the rest of the developed world to refuse to lead the way in emissions reduction and technology development. Not only is it the wise and right thing to do, it presents an opportunity for global cooperation, innovation, and sustainable business growth.

Each new coal-fired power plant China puts on line has a life expectancy of 40–70 years. This has serious implications for any realistic effort to effectively curb global carbon emissions when China fires-up one new plant every week.  

There can be no doubt that a new energy economy must be implemented – in China and everywhere else. America and other industrialized nations have an opportunity to provide the entire world with the technology and tools to implement that new energy economy. The sooner the better.

It is too easy to sink into either pessimism or denialism (or, worse yet, xenophobia and fear). The challenge is to live in the real world and see the challenges, daunting as they may be, as an opportunity for a better world.

It’s the only real choice we have.






Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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