*Perilous Times and Global Warming
China could overtake US as biggest Global Warming culprit by November*
· Tipping point for CO2 was not expected until 2010
· Rapid growth confounds global expectation
John Vidal, environment editor
Wednesday April 25, 2007
China may overtake the United States as the world's biggest source of
greenhouse gases within months, one of the world's leading energy
analysts predicted yesterday.
Dr Fatih Birol, chief economist of the Paris-based International Energy
Agency, said the country's economic growth had been so fast in 2006 and
2007 that the historic global shift of climate-changing emissions from
west to east which was previously predicted for 2009 or 2010 could now
happen by November.
But these predictions paled into insignificance, said Dr Birol, if China
took no measures to restrain emissions. At current rates, he said, it
would be emitting twice as much CO2 as the world's 26 richest countries
together within 25 years.
"[By then] CO2 emissions which come from China alone will be double the
CO2 emissions which will come from all the OECD countries put together -
the whole US, plus Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand"
said Mr Birol.
China has signed up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, but, as a
developing country, it does not have a cap on its emissions. The new
prediction that it will become the world's largest contributor of
greenhouse gases this year will add to pressure for it to control
emissions after 2012 when the treaty runs out.
"Without having China on board, no international climate change policy
has any chance of success at all. "Without China playing a significant
role, all the efforts of every other country will make little sense. It
is terribly important."
However, Dr Birol accepted that on a per capita basis, people in rich
countries still emit far more than individual people in China. US
emissions in 2004 , the most recent figures available, totalled 5,799
million tonnes of CO2 from 293 million people, compared to China's 4,732
million tonnes of CO2 between 1,296 million people. Historically, China
has also contributed little to the present buildup of greenhouse gas
emissions in the atmosphere.
"By 2030 we calculate each individual in China will emit nearly 7 tonnes
of CO2 a year, but the average in OECD countries by then will be 13
tonnes," said Dr Birol
China's breakneck industrial growth, which has been running at nearly
10% a year for four years and was reported to have increased
unexpectedly to 11% in the first three months of 2007, has been fuelled
almost entirely by burning coal. The most populated country in the world
has the world's second largest coal reserves, estimated to be over 185bn
tonnes, and 70% of all its greenhouse emissions can be traced to coal.
This compares with 32% in the US.
Moreover, there is no sign that China is about to reduce its emissions.
Last year it built an average of five 300 megawatt coal-powered
electricity plants a week, and burned more than 1.2bn tonnes of coal.
Energy consumption in China is expected to continue rising fast as it
aims to quadruple the size of its economy by 2020.
It is also massively increasing the amount of oil and other fossil fuels
that it uses. Between 1996 and 2003, its oil imports increased from 20
million tonnes to 90 million tonnes. The number of cars on its roads has
increased by at least 30% since 2002.
However, China has made serious attempts to stem the growth of its
emissions. It demands far higher emission standards from its vehicles
than the US, and plans to produce 16% of all its electricity from
renewable sources by 2020, while reducing the energy intensity of its
economy by a further 20%. China improved its energy intensity by more
than 60% between 1980 and 2004.
But while China's leaders speak of their awareness of climate change and
the need to address emissions, not enough is being done, say analysts. A
progressive renewable energy law came into force in 2006 but it has been
implemented slowly. This week state officials are expected to say at a
conference in Milan that only 80 wind farms have so far been built - far
less than in Britain or Denmark.
China is well aware of the probable effects that climate change will
have on the country. According to a report published by its government
at the weekend, change will mean larger deserts, more severe droughts
and reduced water availability, as well as declining crops and increased
spread of disease. The country is also vulnerable to sea level rises and
the shrinking of glaciers which provide much of its river water.
However, it is widely believed in economic circles that the country
should focus on development first before cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
China this week delayed publishing its long anticipated national "action
plan" on climate change. It gave no reason.
Gases present in the atmosphere absorb radiation from the earth's
surface causing heat to be retained. This property acts as a natural
blanket over the earth's surface. Without this effect the earth's
surface would be 20 to 30°C colder. Humans are adding to the naturally
occurring greenhouse properties of the atmosphere which leads to
increased global warming
International agreements aim to cut back six greenhouse gases. Carbon
dioxide is by far the most widespread but others are significant.
Carbon dioxide is mainly emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.
Methane is widely emitted from landfills, coal mines, oil and gas
operations, and agriculture.
Nitrous oxide is used as an anaesthetic, and also released naturally
from bacteria in soils.
Hydrofluorocarbons are used by industry as a refrigerant.
Perfluorocarbons mainly derive from the semiconductor industry.
Sulphur hexafluoride is used by the electrical industry in circuit