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Chinese CO2 emissions in perspective

Press release | 22-06-2007

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) announced this week that according to preliminary estimates for 2006 China topped the list of CO2 emitting countries, surpassing the USA by an estimated 8%. To evaluate the implications of these rising emissions in China and other countries in the context of the climate policy issue, other aspects must be taken into account, such as economic development, per capita emissions, historical contribution to the current global warming and the fact that China manufactures many goods for export.

Intercomparison of CO2 emissions of countries and burden sharing of emission reductions

The following aspects are key for a balanced comparison between countries:

  • Accounting for the size of countries: emissions per capita or per US$ of GDP
  • Manufacturing of goods for export to industrialised countries
  • Other country-specific circumstances.

Country size matters: emissions per capita or per US$ of GDP

Obviously, countries with larger population and larger economies will use more energy and thus emit more CO2. Therefore it is not surprising that large countries or regions such as the USA, China, the European Union, India and Russia are in the top-5 of CO2 emitters. In country inter-comparisons and in policy discussions often emissions per capita or emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product are used. It is also generally acknowledged that industrialised countries emit more CO2 per head than developing countries and have emitted more CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the past.

In the Summary for Policy Makers of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment report of Working Group III released in May 2007, this is illustrated in Figures 3a and 3b (reproduced below). Average greenhouse gas emissions (total, including non-CO2 gases) for all developing countries are currently about 4.2 ton CO2-eq. per head versus 16.1 ton CO2-eq. per head for industrialised countries. Emissions expressed per unit of GDP show the opposite pattern: about 1.1 vs. 0.7 kg CO2-eq. per US$(PPP) of GDP (on a purchasing power parity basis). A comparison between China, European Union (15) and USA shows that per capita CO2 emissions are presently roughly about 5, 10 and 20 ton CO2/cap, respectively.

Manufacturing of goods for export to industrialised countries

Another element in the comparison of emissions between countries is that in newly industrialised developing countries such as China, Malaysia, Mexico and South Korea, a large fraction of the goods produced by the manufacturing industry is subsequently exported, particularly to high-income industrialised countries: a substantial part of China's emissions growth is being driven by consumers in industrialised countries buying Chinese goods. This means that the fast increase of these countries’ emissions is partly due to their increasing share in the global production of goods for the global market. Although we have not seen recent studies that are conclusive on the fraction of national greenhouse gas emissions directly related to these exported goods it is clear that for countries like China this is not an insignificant part of their national emissions. It should be mentioned though that the accounting used for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) does not take account of these so-called “embedded emissions” in exported goods.

Other country-specific circumstances

Differences in other country-specific circumstances can also be relevant to emission reduction potentials, e.g. differences in climate; geographical structure; economic structure, notably of the manufacturing industry; fuel mix of thetotal primary energy supply and particularlyin the power generation sector.

Global emission reductions required and technically feasible to limit global climate change

The Fourth IPCC Assessment report of Working Group III also indicates that in order to limit climate change to a global mean temperature increase in 2100 of a few degrees C, global greenhouse gas emissions growth needs to stop within the next 10-25 years, followed by a sharp decline. Emission scenarios show that emission reductions in industrialised countries alone are not sufficient to achieve this. However, the IPCC report also shows that in all countries a portfolio of greenhouse gas reduction options is available, e.g. energy conservation and energy efficiency improvement, the use of more renewable energy or nuclear power, recovery and abatement of methane and nitrous oxide emissions of various sources, sequestration of carbon in forests and soils and carbon capture and storage (CCS), etc. Tapping the potential in developing countries is therefore needed, although this does not prejudge who should pay for this.

More information on 'common but differentiated responsibilities' in mitigating climate change

In international discussions and negotiations on climate change mitigation the equitable sharing of efforts on emission reductions and related international cooperation between developed and developing countries are key issues. MNP has supported this process by publishing studies on different options for such equitable sharing of global emission reductions, taking into account various national circumstances, such as income levels, capacity to mitigate and contribution of emissions. At the MNP website several reports of these studies can be found.

Figures

Figure 3a: Year 2004 distribution of regional per capita GHG emissions (all Kyoto gases, including those from land-use) over the population of different country groupings; Average greenhouse gas emissions (total, including non-CO2 gases) for all developing countries are currently about 4.2 ton CO2-eq. per head versus 16.1 ton CO2-eq. per head for industrialised countries.

Figure 3a: Year 2004 distribution of regional per capita GHG emissions (all Kyoto gases, including those from land-use) over the population of different country groupings. The percentages in the bars indicate a regions share in global GHG emissions.

Figure 3b: Year 2004 distribution of regional GHG emissions (all Kyoto gases, including those from land-use) per US$ of GDPppp over the GDPppp of different country groupings; The graph shows 1.1 kg CO2-eq. per US$(PPP) for developing countries versus 0.7 kg CO2-eq. per US$(PPP) for industrialised countries.

Figure 3b: Year 2004 distribution of regional GHG emissions (all Kyoto gases, including those from land-use) per US$ of GDPppp over the GDPppp of different country groupings. The percentages in the bars indicate a regions share in global GHG emissions.

Source: IPCC AR4, Working Group III, SPM, Figure 3a/b

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