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UPDATED: August 27, 2010 Web Exclusive
Expert: The 'Emissions Power' Is a Myth


Pan Jiahua (DAONONG.COM) 

People's Daily recently interviewed Pan Jiahua, Director of the Research Center for Urban Development and Environment under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Edited excerpts follow:

Despite China's total carbon emission, which shows China is a major CO2 emitter, its per-capita emissions in 2007 were only 4.6 tons, less than 25 percent of the United States and only half of the EU.

Additionally, China has done the best job in CO2 emission reduction in the world through its strenuous effort in recent years. From 1990 to 2007, the average global per-unit CO2 reduction rate stood at 15.4 percent, with the United States at 27 percent, the average of developed countries 22 percent and the average of developing countries 10.2 percent, while China's figure stood at 49.2 percent.

Lower emissions

Statistics from the International Energy Agency show that China's CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels totaled 6.03 billion tons in 2007, 260 million tons more than the United States and 33 percent higher than the EU, accounting for 20.8 percent of the global total. CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels made up three fourths of China's total greenhouse gas emissions. These figures suggested, if judged by a country's total emissions, that China had become one of the major carbon-emitting countries.

"China's per-capita CO2 emissions in 2007, however, reached only 4.6 tons, a little higher than the global average of 4.4 tons, but lower than one fourth of the United States and half of the EU," Pan said.

As for historical cumulative CO2 emissions from 1850 to 2004, China contributed 10.8 percent to the total of 13 countries (Group 8+5), around one fourth of the United States. Its per-capita cumulative emissions contribution rate was merely 1 percent, only 0.4 percent higher than India, compared with 21.3 percent in the United States, 16 percent in Canada.

It is superficial to label China a "major CO2-emitting country" in terms of its total emissions volume alone.

China's CO2 emissions increase can be attributed to a number of aspects. First of all, its fast ongoing industrialization and urbanization require huge quantities of energy and carbon accumulation. The continuing massive-scale city infrastructure construction is only part of this progress, which was completed in developed countries decades ago.

If China's annual urbanization rate goes up by 1 percent, its urban population will increase by 14 million each year, equal to the population of the Netherlands. Moreover, consumption based on Chinese per-capita carbon emissions is at subsistence level, not indicative of an affluent or luxurious lifestyle. Besides, the country, rich in coal deposits but scarce in oil and gas, has inevitably depended heavily on its coal resources.

Finally, as the "world's factory," China has to be held accountable for the carbon emissions caused by manufacturing products for export to developed nations.

Overdue responsibilities

As a country with high total CO2 emissions, what responsibilities should China shoulder for emissions reduction? According to Pan, this issue can be viewed from several perspectives.

First, historical responsibility. It is developed countries' CO2 emissions that contributed more to the current global warming since China lags far behind them in urbanization and industrialization. With four times the U.S. population, China has historically made one fourth of the U.S. contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Its per-capita rate of contribution to global warming is as low as 1 percent.

Second, moral responsibility. Generally, China's CO2 emissions are mainly for subsistence while those of developed nations are basically for extravagance. Ethically, the latter are supposed to bear greater responsibility because the former should be given priority.

Third, real actions. China has made strenuous efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions and made major improvements compared with many developed nations. A telling example is the incomparable growth rate of China's nuclear power industry despite its lack of uranium and advanced technology.

Fourth, promise for the future. China has made a commitment to the international community that it will cut its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by a notable 40 to 45 percent by 2020 based on its 2005 figures. This is a goal that even developed countries can hardly attain.

Fifth, contribution to the world. As the largest developing country, China has fulfilled its obligations as stipulated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. It has participated in international cooperation on clean development and emissions reduction, and taken into consideration the global warming issue when carrying out cooperation with developing nations.

"China, the world's largest developing economy with the largest population, has more than one reason to have the highest total CO2 emissions," Pan said. "From the perspectives of both history and reality, the responsibilities China ought to bear should be limited. Undoubtedly, the effort and commitment it has made to date notably surpass what it should make as a developing nation."

Great achievements

"China has made vigorous efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions and attained the best achievements in this respect in the world," Pan said.

First, China has achieved a rapid and remarkable increase in energy efficiency. From 1990 to 2007, the average global per-unit CO2 reduction rate stood at 15.4 percent, with the United States at 27 percent, the average of developed countries 22 percent and the average of developing countries 10.2 percent, while China's figure stood at 49.2 percent. China has reduced its energy consumption per ton of steel from 1.5 tons in 1990 to 0.65 ton in 2010. It has also cut its coal consumption per kilowatt-hour of electricity to below 300 grams, superior to the average level of most developed nations.

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