The world is planning to rein in global warming based on faulty data, according to a University of California-Berkeley and -San Diego economic analysis.
While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assumes that Asia's carbon dioxide emissions will increase between 2.5% and 5% annually over the next three years, the new analysis, published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management puts the rate at 11% or higher.
China's rapid economic growth, fueled as it is by burning coal in power plants and factories, is the single greatest cause.
For perspective, China will have increased its CO2 output by 600 million metric tons in the first decade of the 21st Century. That is more than five-times as much carbon as participating nations have pledged to cut under the Kyoto Protocol. And several nations are not on pace to meet their targets.
The analysis lends credence to the Bush Administration's contention that any international framework for reducing pollution must include China and other rapidly developing nations. But critics still argue that the best way to see those reductions is for the U.S. to pioneer technological solutions that it can export.
The authors of the study, Auffhammer, UC Berkeley assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics, and Richard Carson, UC San Diego professor of economics, based their findings upon pollution data from China's 30 provincial entities.
"Making China and other developing countries an integral part of any future climate agreement is now even more important," said Maximillian Auffhammer, one of the study's authors. "It had been expected that the efficiency of China's power generation would continue to improve as per capita income increased, slowing down the rate of CO2 emissions growth. What we're finding instead is that the emissions growth rate is surpassing our worst expectations, and that means the goal of stabilizing atmospheric CO2 is going to be much, much harder to achieve."
Here's how the University of California described the research:
Researchers traditionally calculate the CO2 emissions for a region or country from data on fossil fuel consumption. Existing models then use those emission figures and factor in such variables as population size, a society's affluence and technology developments to forecast the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
In explaining the startling differences in results from previous estimates for China's carbon emissions growth, the UC researchers point out that they used province-level figures in their analysis to obtain a more detailed picture of the country's CO2 emissions up to 2004.
"Everybody had been treating China as single country, but each of the country's provinces is larger than many European countries, both in geographic size and population," said Richard Carson, another author. "In addition, there is a wide range in economic development and wealth from one province to the next, as well as major differences in population growth, all of which has an effect on energy consumption that cannot be easily addressed in models based upon aggregate national data."
Since data on fossil fuel consumption is not reported at the province level in China, the researchers used waste gas emissions, available from China's state environmental protection administration reports, as a proxy for CO2 emissions in this paper.
Moreover, the researchers said, the majority of other studies forecasting China's CO2 emissions relied upon information from nearly a decade ago. During the 1990s, per capita income was growing faster than the use of energy in China, which typically relates to slower growth in carbon emissions.
"A notable shift occurred in China around the year 2000, around the time when hope for an agreement with the U.S. on the Kyoto Protocol began to diminish along with external pressure for China to reduce its emissions," said Carson. "Energy use started to grow faster than income, and much of the energy that was used wasn't efficient."
The authors also pointed out that after 2000, China's central government began shifting the responsibility for building new power plants to provincial officials who had less incentive and fewer resources to build cleaner, more efficient plants, which save money in the long run but are more expensive to construct.
"Government officials turned away from energy efficiency as an objective to expanding power generation as quickly as they can, and as cheaply as they can," said Carson. "Wealthier coastal provinces tended to build clean-burning power plants based upon the very best technology available, but many of the poorer interior provinces replicated inefficient 1950s Soviet technology."
"The problem is that power plants, once built, are meant to last for 40 to 75 years," said Carson. "These provincial officials have locked themselves into a long-run emissions trajectory that is much higher than people had anticipated. Our forecast incorporates the fact that much of China is now stuck with power plants that are dirty and inefficient."
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