UC Study Predicts Greater CO2 Emissions for China

An analysis by economists at the University of California, Berkeley and UC San Diego shows that China's carbon dioxide emissions will grow at an annual rate of 11 percent between 2004 and 2010. An earlier estimate put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was 2.5 percent to 5 percent annual increase in emissions for that time period.

The study, which is now online, is slated for publication in the May issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

The researchers' most conservative forecast is that by 2010, China will increase its emissions by 600 million metric tons over its 2000 levels. This growth overshadows the 116 million metric tons of reductions pledged by the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol. (The United States never ratified the protocol.)

Based on these findings, authors Maximillian Auffhammer and Richard Carson say current global warming forecasts are "overly optimistic," and that action is urgently needed to curb greenhouse gas production in China and other rapidly industrializing countries.

Auffhammer, UC Berkeley assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics, and Carson, UC San Diego professor of economics, based their findings on pollution data from China's 30 provincial entities.

"It had been expected that the efficiency of China's power generation would continue to improve as per capita income increased, slowing down the rate of CO2 emissions growth. What we're finding instead is that the emissions growth rate is surpassing our worst expectations, and that means the goal of stabilizing atmospheric CO2 is going to be much, much harder to achieve," Auffhammer said.

Researchers traditionally calculate the CO2 emissions for a region or country from data on fossil fuel consumption. Existing models then use those emission figures and factor in such variables as population size, a society's affluence, and technology developments to forecast the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

The UC researchers used province-level figures in their analysis to obtain a more detailed picture of the country's CO2 emissions up to 2004.

"Everybody had been treating China as single country, but each of the country's provinces is larger than many European countries, both in geographic size and population," said Carson. "In addition, there is a wide range in economic development and wealth from one province to the next, as well as major differences in population growth, all of which has an effect on energy consumption that cannot be easily addressed in models based upon aggregate national data."

Since data on fossil fuel consumption is not reported at the province level in China, the researchers used waste gas emissions, available from China's state environmental protection administration reports, as a proxy for CO2 emissions in this paper.

The authors pointed out that after 2000, China's central government began shifting the responsibility for building new power plants to provincial officials.

"Wealthier coastal provinces tended to build clean-burning power plants based upon the very best technology available," Carson said, "but many of the poorer interior provinces replicated inefficient 1950s Soviet technology."

Funding for the study came from the University of California's Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation.

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