China manages to cut carbon dioxide emissions while its economy surges

Despite claims by the US government that China will soon become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, a new report has found that China has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 17% since 1997 while its economy grew 36%.

Less than a week earlier, US President George W. Bush had again rejected participation in the Kyoto Protocol, partly for not being “fair” by leaving out developing nations, such as China (see related story), but a report released by the US NGO, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), appears to contradict assertions that China is not addressing the global warming problem. Their report confirms research published in May which found that, despite, a booming industry, China has increased energy consumption (see related story).

The NRDC report has found that by switching from coal to cleaner energy sources, initiating energy efficiency programs, and restructuring its economy, China has managed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 17% since 1997. Over the last decade, while China’s CO2 emissions increased by 8.4%, its economy grew by 142%, compared to US emissions, which increased by 14%, with economic growth of 31%. According to estimates by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, even if the Chinese economy continues to grow by 5 –6% per year, by 2020, China’s carbon dioxide emissions still will be significantly below US emissions levels in 1990.

The study said that China, the world’s second biggest producer of greenhouse gases, has aggressively moved to reduce its reliance on burning coal, by phasing out all subsidies to the industry. It has ordered the closure of 25,000 coal mines and has closed inefficient coal-fired electric plants, resulting in coal consumption declining by 411 million tonnes since 1996, according to US Department of Energy statistics. Over the same period, US coal consumption increased by 40 tonnes, and may be set for a further boost with the advent of Bush’s recent energy policy (see related story).

At the beginning of the year China announced that it was to spend more than 1% of its GDP on improving the state of national air and water, and that by 2005, ‘clean energy’ would account for 75% of energy consumed in the Chinese capital (see related story).

“Contrary to the president’s claims, China has cut its carbon dioxide emissions 17% while its economy has been booming,” said Robert Watson, an NRDC senior scientist and co-author of the report. “In fact, the evidence shows that China has done more than the United States to combat global warming over the last decade. The president should stop hiding behind China’s skirts as an excuse for stalling on taking action on global warming. President Bush says he is serious about addressing global warming, but his own energy plan would increase our reliance on coal, while his proposed budget would cut the heart out of federal energy efficiency programmes.”

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