China is on track to beat its peak-emissions 2015 Paris Agreement pledge
July 31, 2019 8:22 AM   Subscribe

As China's service-sector surged circa 2014 (Invstopedia) and was continuing the shift in 2017 (Forbes), the country also continued to struggle to control its pollution problems (Forbes, 2017), because "China’s air pollution is influenced by a wide variety of physical and chemical factors; the problems are a lot more complex than most realize." But a recent study reports that China is on track to beat its peak-emissions pledge (Ars Technica, June 30, 2019).

From Ars Technica:
The analysis uses data from 50 Chinese cities for a representative sampling of the factors at work across the country. The cities combine to account for about 35% of national emissions, 30% of the population, and 50% of total gross domestic product (GDP).

These cities vary widely, from types of industry to affluence to sources of power on the local grid. But the researchers see evidence that these metropolises follow an economic relationship known as the environmental Kuznets curve (Wikipedia)—emissions per capita stops increasing once a certain GDP per capita is reached. The idea is basically that dirty growth eventually provides the resources to switch to cleaner options.

After adjusting for things like location (whether a city's electricity is supplied mainly by coal or by nuclear and renewables) and the population density of cities of different sizes, the researchers calculated that emissions reach a peak when per-capita emissions hit about 10 tons of CO2 per year. That happens at an average per-capita GDP of US$21,000.

When China signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, it was at an average of about 7.5 tons of CO2 per person per year and a per-capita GDP of $13,500. Based on World Bank economic projections, the researchers calculate China should hit $21,000—and so peak emissions—between 2021 and 2025.

That would equate to peak national emissions of 13-16 billion tons of CO2 per year, compared to emissions of roughly 10 billion tons of CO2 in 2015. (For context, the United States is emitting around 5.5 billion tons of CO2 each year with a little less than a quarter of China's population.)
The research (Nature Sustainability abstract only) notes that it could be even better.
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
this may be a dumb question, but given the data they rely on is from chinese cities (which i assume are reported by officials who are tightly controlled by the central govt party), wouldnt they be sure not to report anything embarrassing or short of target? can we rely on these numbers given what we know about the government's insistence never to show weakness, error, or failure?
posted by wibari at 9:23 AM on July 31, 2019 [12 favorites]


but given the data they rely on is from chinese cities (which i assume are reported by officials who are tightly controlled by the central govt party)

I'm not sure this is true. The article just says "data from 50 Chinese cities," which could mean either "data provided by these cities" or "data regarding these cities."

The actual paper is paywalled, but says "Details on the methodology and data for estimating CO2 emissions of 50 Chinese cities are summarized in the Supplementary Information," which implies that they actually did do their own estimations rather than just relying on government-provided info.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:33 AM on July 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


From the SI, this is their overall approach to sources:
The energy consumption data of various sectors are generally collected from the statistical yearbook for each city, with exception of transportation sector. As Chinese official statistics only separately report the road transport fuel consumption of commercial activity, we calculated fuel use by road transportation as the product of vehicle mileage traveled and the relevant fuel economy according to our previous studies (Wang et al., 2011; 2012). We then calculated CO2 emissions for each fossil fuel used in various sectors through 28 Supplementary Eq. 1 by applying China’s NDRC (2011) default values, which considered different oxygenation efficiency for fossil fuels burnt in different sectors in China. Industrial productions were taken from the statistical yearbooks for each Chinese city. We substituted cement production with clinker production in order to calculate CO2 emissions from the cement industrial process more accurate (Liu et al., 2013; Liu et al., 2015).
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on July 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


My reading comprehension this morning is bunko at the moment - does this mean that the data from these 50 cities, and the estimates based on that data, indicates China is likely to hit peak CO2 emissions sooner than anticipated, after which emissions will start getting lower?

Also, what does it mean to "beat" an emissions pledge?
posted by rather be jorting at 9:55 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


does this mean that the data from these 50 cities, and the estimates based on that data, indicates China is likely to hit peak CO2 emissions sooner than anticipated, after which emissions will start getting lower?

That's what I understood.

I didn't see this mentioned in the articles, but meanwhile China's CFC production has been rising dramatically, even though it's illegal under the Montreal Protocol.
posted by trig at 10:09 AM on July 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


Considering how many videos exist on Youtube of Westerners living in China completely debunking, with evidence, most of China's "green" claims (think mile after mile of fake solar panels on street lights that are just connected to the standard power grid, fake electric buses, etc) this article and study is worthless until its impartiality of measurement can be established.
posted by Cosine at 10:22 AM on July 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


From the SI, this is their overall approach to sources:

In other words, it looks like they're using official sources almost entirely, except for transportation, where they used official sources but hand to do some extra manipulation to get a relevant number.

I read this article earlier today, before it got posted here, and I'm also not very clear on what "beating" the peak emissions pledge means. Have they hit an actual inflection point where emissions started going down sooner than anticipated, or is it just that they hit some other milestone that indicates they're close to a predicted inflection point?
posted by tobascodagama at 10:31 AM on July 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


On reflection this framing around the environmental Kuznets curve seems weird. Isn't part of the reason for the Kuznets effect that industrial production tends to move away from wealthier areas, so that even if China becomes rich enough that people don't want to work in or live near factories anymore, that production will still exist - just relocated to less wealthy parts of the world? The wikipedia article has a number of other criticisms, e.g.
However, the applicability of the EKC is debatable when it comes to other pollutants, some natural resource use, and biodiversity conservation. For example, energy, land and resource use (sometimes called the "ecological footprint") may not fall with rising income. While the ratio of energy per real GDP has fallen, total energy use is still rising in most developed countries as are total emission of many greenhouse gases.
The Ars article says "The idea is basically that dirty growth eventually provides the resources to switch to cleaner options" but also that "Emerging cities [...] may have opportunities to leapfrog and bypass carbon-intensive growth". I don't know much about this and don't have the time right now to research, but I'd be interested to hear, if anyone does know, about the relative costs of using renewables rather than fossil fuels. Do the former require so much more in the way of economic resources that you need a certain level of GDP to enable widespread adoption?
posted by trig at 10:33 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


otoh, China does have the imperative to clean up the environment given the high degree of pollution in all kinds of sectors across the country.

India's just announced a push to electric vehicles due to her challenges with pollution
posted by Mrs Potato at 10:38 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


However, what I'm intrigued by is the trend showing increase in the service sectors.
posted by Mrs Potato at 10:40 AM on July 31, 2019


I have no way to judge if this is true or not, but there certainly is a global competition to be the first on this, because the countries who are first to develop solutions will be first to be able to capitalize on those solutions. I think the EU is a couple of years ahead of schedule, too. Which is just a fact of life that makes a few gas-loving Anglo-governments look stupid.
posted by mumimor at 12:33 PM on July 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


Considering how many videos exist on Youtube of Westerners living in China completely debunking, with evidence, most of China's "green" claims (think mile after mile of fake solar panels on street lights that are just connected to the standard power grid, fake electric buses, etc) this article and study is worthless until its impartiality of measurement can be established.

We've a heap of satellites monitoring concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, NOx, and aerosols. We can already to 50 metre resolution imaging of methane sources. That can pick up landfills and individual cattle feedlots.

There's getting to be no hiding of emissions.

From Scientific American: Meet the Satellites That Can Pinpoint Methane and Carbon Dioxide Leaks
posted by happyinmotion at 12:42 PM on July 31, 2019 [8 favorites]




There's getting to be no hiding of emissions

Ok, but is this article about their claims vs verification or just the former? I thought just the former?

Not to other China, because it's Lies, Damn Lies &...many places. But China has a track record of cooking the books. Economists referring to their markets/GDP #s as 'faith based investing', etc.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 1:16 PM on July 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not "sooner than anticipated", just sooner than promised.
posted by sfenders at 1:30 PM on July 31, 2019


China has also spent the past ten years building-out (not just talking about) an enormous, brand-new power grid to transport renewable energy from its northern regions (and hydro from its western) to where it's needed. (Not to mention high-speed, long-distance travel.)

In many pragmatic ways, China is looking more and more like a true modern world leader. Meanwhile, Nero twitters.
posted by Twang at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


China has an ambitious proposal for a global HVDC grid to transfer renewable energy throughout the world. Interconnected regional electricity networks would be connected to a backbone of HVDC lines that would become a globe-spanning super grid by 2050.

Advancing the idea is China’s Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDO). The concept depends on the proficiency of China’s State Grid in advanced grid technology that would enable such a massive project.

“The vision is to integrate more renewables, so you can put a lot of solar in desert areas and send it to the places where it’s needed,” said solar policy researcher Alina Gilmanova in a call from Beijing.

posted by Mrs Potato at 12:00 AM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


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