China and Change

Eduardo Porter in the NY Times, recently focusing on climate change in his Economic Scene column, [here and here, here and here] takes a look at China, which even though it has announced steps larger than those of the US has a larger problem, and solving it will not be easy:

A coal heating plant in Beijing

A coal heating plant in Beijing

In Beijing, He Jiankun, an academic and deputy director of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, told a conference that China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter, would for the first time put “an absolute cap” on its emissions.

However, he soon clarified

 He was not announcing policy in Beijing. “I’m not a government official, and I don’t represent the government,” he said.

Though Porter’s article is about China, he comments on the US as well, perhaps too easily thinking it has turned some sort of corner and will, by example, bring others along.  His point, however, is that even if the US were to start sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere tomorrow, China (and India) are enormous parts of the necessary solution.

It is well known that preventing a climate catastrophe requires China’s participation: The country accounts for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next 20 years, China’s CO2 emissions will grow by an amount roughly equal to the United States’ total emissions today, according to the latest baseline forecast by the Energy Information Administration, released last year.

But the scale of China’s challenge is less well grasped. It might be best understood by slicing the growth of CO2 emissions into four driving forces: the expansion of the population, the growth in people’s incomes, the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of income, and the amount of CO2spewed for each unit of energy used.

Even assuming that China’s population does not grow at all over the next 30 years, that the energy efficiency of its economy increases at a faster pace than most developed and developing countries and that it manages todecarbonize its energy sources faster than pretty much anybody else, China would still be emitting a lot more carbon in 2040 than it does today, according to E.I.A. calculations.

NY Times; Eduardo Porter

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