Published on Saturday, December 1, 2001 by the Inter Press Service
China Cuts Greenhouse Gases, Contradicting U.S.
WASHINGTON - Chinese energy sector reforms have helped reduce the country's emissions of
heat-trapping greenhouse gases, according to a study released Thursday .
Economic slowdown following the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis also may have played a role, said the study published in 'Science' magazine.
China's overall carbon dioxide emissions fell by 7.3 percent between 1996 and 2000, and its methane emissions declined by 2.2 percent between 1997 and 2000, it said.
The findings contradicted one of the U.S. administration's main arguments against the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
President George. W. Bush has said the treaty lacks binding commitments for developing countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions and thus ensures that China, with its ''huge population and endless coal reserves'', would surpass the United States as the world's largest source of gases blamed for global warming.
While China's emissions have dropped over the past five years, those of the United States and other industrialized countries have increased, the study found.
''This recent trend illustrates the potential for a fundamental change in the long-term pattern of emissions growth in China,'' wrote the study's authors, a team of Chinese and U.S. researchers.
Most scientists have said that emissions include carbon dioxide, released when fossil fuels are burned, already have resulted in ocean warming, altered seasonal patterns, and fractured Antarctic ice shelves.
Attempting to address global warming, industrialized nations hammered out the Kyoto Protocol, in which they pledged to reduce their emission by five to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Under the treaty, developing nations, including China, do not have to commit to binding emission reduction targets.
Nevertheless, the researchers found, Chinese carbon dioxide emissions produced from the combustion of fossil fuels declined by 8.8 percent from 1996 to 2000 - an even greater reduction than the 7.3 percent drop for emissions from all sources.
By contrast, Western Europe increased its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion by 4.5 percent from 1995 to 1999 and the United States increased its emissions by 6.3 percent.
''When energy data for the past five years began to emerge from China, it became clear that a transformation was in progress that had resulted in a reduction in energy use,'' said the study.
Researchers found emission reductions in China have resulted from the closing of small and inefficient industrial plants, improved efficiency of energy use, improved coal quality, the switching of many residential fuel users from coal to gas, technological progress in energy-intensive sectors, and the opening up of coal and electricity markets.
''Many factories curtailed production or shut down because of economic restructuring policies, resulting in a decline in coal production and consumption,'' the study said.
China has taken unprecedented action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite the lack of legal commitments, said Nancy Kete, director of the Washington-based World Resources Institute.
In 1996, the government launched a campaign to modernize its coal-combustion industrial boilers, the country's leading source of carbon dioxide pollution, she said. It has also taken action to reduce subsidies for fossil fuels and to invest in research on energy efficiency.
''These reductions, achieved through sweeping energy pricing and policy reforms, as well as the promotion of energy efficiency (are) equal to the 400 million tons of carbon that the U.S. transportation sector emitted last year," said Kete.
China's reversal of past forest clearing activities and recent promotion of reforestation also have increased the net absorption of carbon dioxide by the country's forests over the past decade, said the study.
The findings confirmed Chinese government assertions that the nation's greenhouse gas emissions had been decreasing, although the reductions were smaller than the 17 percent between 1997 and 1999 claimed by the state.
''Our analysis suggests that the reductions are real but not as great as previously believed,'' said the study.
While acknowledging weaknesses in China's data and noting that the government had begun to revise some of its energy statistics, the Science study said it did not expect these changes would reverse the observed trend in emissions reductions.
Researchers projected a slow increase in Chinese fossil fuel use but added: ''There is some room for optimism, however, that further increases in greenhouse gas emissions in China might be averted for several years if energy efficiency improvements continue, markets continue to open up and lead to price reforms, persistent inefficiencies in the coal industry are removed, and natural gas continues to penetrate at a rapid rate.''
Much will depend on the vitality of the Chinese economy in the coming years, it added.
The Washington-based Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Beijing Energy Efficiency Center, and the China Energy Research Institute said in a report last year that carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by 19 percent by 2015 by increasing energy efficiency by 10 percent from business-as-usual projections.
Expanding the availability of low-cost natural gas in China through market reforms, said the Pew Center, could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent and increase costs by only four percent relative to the business-as-usual baseline.
Copyright © 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service