Is China To Blame For Greenhouse Gases Produced By Its Export Sector?

July 9, 2008 at 10:05 pm Leave a comment

bob.jpgSo the next climate deal is another watered down soapy substance now that China and India pulled the plug at the G8 meeting held in Japan. The stalemate that’s visible was exactly what was feared by everybody; diametrically opposed parties over the emissions by the world’s largest energy consuming countries.

Time for a change in approach? Perhaps time for a change in accounting methods. Take China for instance. At least 23% of this country’s carbon emissions are from goods that are exported to industrialized countries. So is it fair that the country is held responsible for all of its emissions in the new climate deal?

Academic researchers from the UK focusing their efforts on finding ways in which China can evolve into a coal independent nation say that determining countries’ carbon emissions should not be limited by national borders, as is currently the case under the Kyoto Protocol. The goings on at the G8 meeting in Japan appear to suggest something along similar lines.

The researchers, who embarked on their project in 2006 and have an end date in 2009, wrote a commentary note called the Tyndall Centre Briefing Note on the G8 meeting and suggested that a nation’s entire carbon footprint should also include imported goods and services manufactured elsewhere.

It’s an argument that is heard frequently. The supply chain logic follow through is gaining momentum in the corporate world these days in particular. As carbon calculations are increasingly getting more sophisticated, more and more companies are getting to the nitty gritty parts of their carbon emissions by including data on their suppliers.

The Tyndal researchers, Tao Wang and Jim Watson, make a few strong points. First of all they point out that China’s carbon emissions from goods exported to the first world are the equivalent of more than double the UK’s emissions or the whole of Japan’s. That is quite hefty. Then they claim that industrialised countries are both historically responsible for the majority of carbon emissions to date and that they’re likely to have accelerated the rapid growth in emissions in these countries.

The arguments build up to the logical deduction that it makes sense for the developed world to get on with cleaning up the environment by imposing strict rules and by helping the poor countries along the road.

Wang and Watson’s calculation of just how China’s greenhouse gas breaks down firmly supporting this argument. The numbers are taken from China’s official 2004 data (the most recent year for which full data was available) and they indicate that China is now the world’s top polluting country (having overtaken the US). And these results may be on the low side because between 2004 and 2006, China’s export increased from $32bn to $177bn.

The researchers, whose project assesses how China can industrialize without becoming locked long-term into an energy and economy dependent upon coal, oil and gas, believe there’s credible evidence that it makes sense for industrialised countries to move first to make real progress in cutting their carbon emissions and to help nations like China and India to shift to a more low carbon path of development. The United States in particular is vehemently opposed to reducing emissions unless new economies like China and India also do so. The US is the top importer of Chinese made goods.

China is working on reducing energy use, but its government has limited power because global demand and market forces determine much of this process. Take for example the steel industry. The Chinese government has tried to slow this sector’s expansion by slashing tax rebates. But steel exports nevertheless have increased over 200% due to worldwide demand for cheaper steel from China. Looks like there’s a whole lot of thinking that needs to go into what’s fair.

At the end of the G8 meeting, only three of the emerging economies, Indonesia, South Korea and Australia, did actually commit to the vague goals set; a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas by 2050.

Chinese participants to the global climate talks cited economic growth and political risks as the main factors deterring them from committing. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was saying that his priorities were stacked up in a different order. He said food security, public health and water resources were the main issues on his list of important things to do.

But environmental activists are deeply disappointed at the G8 meeting’s outcome because the goal to set firm targets with smaller time frames has now been abandoned. They furthermore say that a specific base year to calculate carbon reductions on is missing. It is now hoped that a ‘do good’ mentality is going to become the export product of proper pride of the individual participating countries.

The UK and Europe (EU) have said that they will both be on target to reduce greenhouse gas 20% by 2020. It is assumed that countries that impose stringent goals also come up with the better competitive technology which they will be able to sell to other countries too.

Environmentalists are lobbying intensely for governments’ commitment to shorter-range targets, (also read a recent Triple Pundit post by me about G8 sponsored research) but the Japanese meeting concluded with this consideration left to the discretion of member countries.

Entry filed under: Green News.

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