China’s climate pledge impeded by recent economic surge

China's extensive financial growth is thwarting the country's efforts to reduce CO2 emissions according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The findings are part of a seven-year study conducted by Professor Dabo Guan of UEA’s School of International Development, along with an international research team and published in the journal ‘Nature Climate Change’.

China made its first major climate pledge to cut CO2 emissions at the UN Climate Summit this year. However, the study calls attention to a 3% rise in carbon intensity during the country’s economic boom over the period of 2002-2009. It puts this down to a significant increase in CO2-emitting activities such as mining, metal smelting and coal-fired electricity generation.

The most noticeable improvements in carbon efficiency were reported to be in the more prosperous coastal areas and heavily industrialised inland regions.

The less affluent southwestern province of Guizhou achieved a carbon efficiency gain of 98% from 2002-2009. However, the simultaneous increase in production led to a 125% efficiency loss causing the net carbon efficiency of the region to fall by 27%.

Diminishing investments

While the application of more efficient technologies helped most provinces reduce their emissions, the increased scale of production counteracted those improvements and lessened or negated net carbon efficiency.

The efficiency of the country’s coal-fired power plants improved by 10%, while its production capacity more than doubled and its share in the total economy also increased. Other CO2-intensive industries showed similar trends.

Commenting on his findings, Professor Guan said: “The efficiency improvements are largely due to diminishing investments in emission-intensive industries, but this could be a temporary lull if China cannot decouple its economic growth with emission-intensive capital investments.

“China needs to look to its recent past and appreciate that substantial capital projects – even more efficient ones – won’t help it achieve its commitment to reduced emissions.”

The conclusions drawn by this report have been visualised in an interactive map from the World Resources Institute, which tracks how carbon dioxide emissions are distributed globally and how they’ve changed over the past two centuries. The dramatic inflation of emissions in China over the past fifty is particularly striking.

Interactive Map: 160 years of global carbon emissions

Lois Vallely

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