December 11, 2006
China CO2 Emissions To Surpass US In 2009

Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says China will surpass the United States in carbon dioxide emissions and China is embarked on an internal propaganda campaign to blame the rest of the world.

Last month the International Energy Agency announced that China would probably surpass the United States as the world's largest contributor of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 2009, more than a full decade earlier than anticipated. This forecast could spur China to adopt tough new energy and environmental standards, but it probably won't. China has already embarked on a very different strategy to manage its environmental reputation: launching a political campaign that lays much of the blame for the country's mounting environmental problems squarely on the shoulders of foreigners and, in particular, multinational companies.

While still in its initial stages, the campaign has gained steam over the past month. Senior Chinese officials, the media and even some environmental activists have charged multinational firms and other countries with exporting pollution, lowering their environmental manufacturing standards and willfully ignoring China's environmental regulations. Faced with growing international and popular discontent over the country's environmental crisis, China's leaders are tapping into anti-foreign and nationalist sentiments to deflect attention from their own failures.

First off, China's not going to help. Second, if they are going to surpass the United States in 2009 then where are they going to be in 2019 or 2029?

Consider the sheer cheekiness of this claim:

In late October a top environmental official, Pan Yue, accused the developed countries of "environmental colonialism": of transferring resource-intensive, polluting industries to China and bearing as little environmental responsibility as possible.

The Chinese government is buying massive amounts of American debt in order to keep the Chinese yuan currency undervalued. This boosts Chinese exports and decreases production in other countries of steel and other energy-intensive products. As the US dollar has dropped against other currencies in response to a US trade deficit that East Asian countries created with US debt purchases it has made the Chinese currency even more undervalued against the Euro, the English Pound, and other currencies.

Benny Peiser points out the above article and this one below by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent for the Financial Times as indications for why the current unilateral regulatory approach in Europe faces an increasingly difficult reception. Some of Europe's reduction in CO2 emissions has just shifted to other countries which levy fewer taxes on energy usage. Fiona Harvey says that countries are afraid to put higher costs on carbon dioxide emissions because they fear loss of international competitiveness.

Japan refused to hurry moves to commit to reductions in emissions beyond 2012, when the current provisions of the Kyoto protocol expire, because of fears that it would hand China a competitive advantage in manufacturing industries. Canada faced a similar dilemma, resisting pressure to push for greater emissions cuts as the US was refusing to take on reduction targets. The US and Australia have already rejected the protocol, which obliges developed countries to cut their emissions by an average of 5 per cent compared with 1990 levels by 2012.

More worrying for proponents of the treaty, however, are rifts on the issue that are beginning to become apparent within Europe. The European Union has long been the most steadfast supporter of the Kyoto protocol, in the face of backsliding from Canada and Japan. The EU was credited with enticing Russia to agree to the protocol two years ago, which was the decisive factor in ensuring the long-delayed agreement finally came into effect. The EUís greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme is the only mandatory scheme in the world to impose constraints on business emissions of carbon dioxide and to allow companies to trade their emissions allowances with one another in order to reduce carbon output at the lowest possible price.

Governments aren't just worried about reduced competitiveness. Their publics do not want to pay more for energy and for products and services made from energy.

The Kyoto Accord to cut green house gas emissions wasn't honored by some of its signatories. Now the percentage of emissions by non-Kyoto countries is skyrocketing. An international agreement isn't going to cut total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions or even slow CO2 emissions growth by much.

Worried about the potential for global warming? There's only one way to stop CO2 emissions growth: Development of energy technologies that are cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels is the only way guaranteed to CO2 emissions.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 December 11 09:52 PM  Climate Trends

remo williams said at December 12, 2006 12:21 AM:

But there is a ton of research and good progress in many areas of energy technology. Where will China be in 2019 or 2029? Lower than today by 2019 (as hard as that is to believe in 2006) and far lower by 2029. This is just a little rough spot for a decade that we shouldnt be worried about. Unfortunately, we will, causing unnecessary friction between China and the rest of the industrialized world.

I really wish our policy would be to encourage China to adopt alternatives to coal (as they are, since coal use is in decline there) but to not say much politically until at least 2015.

rsilvetz said at December 12, 2006 12:30 AM:

Governments aren't just worried about reduced competitiveness. Their publics do not want to pay more for energy and for products and services made from energy.

And rightfully so. In the first place, the common man doesn't buy the global warming claptrap. In the second place, the common man also realizes, somewhere in the fog of geopolitics, that this is just another excuse to regulate behavior at best, and at worst, an excuse to deploy the UN against him in the sense of and we aren't ready for that.

More to the point of the post. Pion-based fusion is on its way, the Boussard-Farnsworth fusors are almost certainly doable (Go Google!), solar just jumped. And we could do the unthinkable -- put more green plants in the ground... expand the northwest forests, who knows, we may be a carbon sink yet!

Now if we could only get a laissez-faire society in place, we could also get a 10-to-100-fold drop in all costs out of the box and maybe we could turn some real resources at real problems like - disease, death, homelessness, malnutrition, poverty etc etc etc etc. and real global catastrophes like wars, tsunamis, extinction events. But I digress...

Ned said at December 12, 2006 5:32 AM:

Pollution control is a luxury that only the most affluent nations can afford (mainly the English-speaking countries plus Western Europe, Japan and maybe a few others). In most of the Third World, scarce resources are used for other purposes. China is the worst offender simply because it is the biggest. I've been to China a couple of times and the pollution there is really bad, but no worse than I've seen in Egypt, Mexico, Russia or Thailand. Once, when I was visiting a town on the Yangtze River, I asked one of the locals if it was safe to drink the water. He said that there were 300 million people living along the Yangtze with no sewage treatment facilities at all, so I could draw my own conclusions. I stuck to bottled water and didn't get sick, fortunately. But I don't buy the idea that human activity is a big contributor to global warming. I think this concept is driven by politicians and activists with a leftist, ant-capitalist agenda. Their main desire is to increase the power of the state to interfere in people's lives and to promote the idea of world government. Given the great successes of the UN, I can't imagine why we wouldn't want to try it.

Jake said at December 12, 2006 10:08 AM:

I agree with Ned that air pollution is the real problem in third world countries and not CO2.

The Chinese use wood to make charcoal and then burn charcoal for heating and cooking. Coal is burned in open fires for the same purposes.
Charcoal and coal are the main reasons a black cloud hangs over China. And that black cloud probably does change the weather.

It looks as if the government will be forced to built power plants as the people are getting very angry with the air pollution they are forced to endure. Unlike the US the Chinese has a crash program to build nuclear power plants. They are starting construction on 30 nuclear plants with 300 gigawatts of output.

ScottyB said at December 12, 2006 12:39 PM:


I have trouble believing that you speak for "The Common Man" on when it comes to global warming. The fear of a world government regulating behavior appears to come out of right-wing conspiracy theories. I would argue that this fear is analogous to one on the extreme left, where out of control corporations (emboldened by laissez-faire laws) take control of the government and dumb down society with mind-numbing television, movies, and other random products of mass distraction. Successfully diverted, the public will ignore whatever the government-industrial complex wants to get away with.

Also off track from the post. Sorry. Back on topic. This line concerns me:

"There's only one way to stop CO2 emissions growth: Development of energy technologies that are cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels is the only way guaranteed to CO2 emissions."

It is a true statement and sounds great, but really says nothing about how to get there. The Kyoto Protocol, however flawed it was/is, at least attempted to cut CO2 emissions. I personally feel that the only way to get these clean energy technologies developed and implemented is through a world-wide agreement where all countries, not just developed ones, are accountable to some extent. We can't simply rely on market forces to somehow magically "choose" clean energy. I believe that most people don't care where their energy (be it electricity or transportation) comes from. All they are interested in is the end effect, like hot water for showers, light for reading, and motive force for their vehicles. If that is the case, the market will simply choose the cheapest (usually dirtiest) energy source available.

brian wang said at December 12, 2006 4:07 PM:

some figures on the air pollution problem. Coal (air) pollution kills 400,000 chinese per year and 10,000 from coal mining accidents. One does not have to believe in global warming to see a need to change from coal power. To motivate change from oil, it is strategic instability, cost and possible scarcity. Coal and air pollution prematurely kills 27000 americans (stat from american lung association)

30,000 very ill from arsenic poisoning in China

World Bank, Asia Development Bank study - connecting Asia
178000 premature deaths in major cities every year from coal (Rural areas would increase this to 400,000)
China will spend $30B each year on environmental protection and cleanup each year.
include estimates of 6.4 million work years lost annually in China to air pollution

It will make economic sense for China to clean up its energy. but just as the USA for now
coal is part of the mix. China is at least completing two nuclear reactors every year (as noted by Ned).
China is spending a lot on nuclear and alternative power.

Mass transit and better cars will be introduced for economic efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Big subway expansions in Chinese cities because of gridlock.
Plug in hybrids as noted can be powered by off peak electrical power and it will be cheaper.

It is and will be too expensive to be inefficient and not change. Some pollution control measures are expensive and not efficient.
Platinum catalytic converters. But efficient solutions are available or being developed.

Brian Wang said at December 12, 2006 4:16 PM:

Sorry it was Jake who mentioned the nuclear reactors first.

Note: also India president Kalam has stated the goal of 24GW of nuclear power by 2020 and 50GW by 2030.

Randall Parker said at December 12, 2006 5:38 PM:


A worldwide agreement binding on all parties is not in the realm of the possible. China and India won't sign up. So won't some other growing countries. Japan doesn't want to put itself at a competitive disadvantage to China. Canada under more left-leaning governmemts posed as morally superior to the US because Canada joined Kyoto. But Canada's CO2 emissions growth rate has been higher than that of the United States these last 10 or 15 years. They didn't want to give up economic growth.

I do not think it is politically possible to put a $1 a gallon carbon tax on gasoline in the US and in order to have a big impact the tax would need to be $3 or $5 per gallon. I could go on. My point is that we have to push for technological advances without big price incentives because the price incentives are not politically possible.

What price incentives can be put into effect involve doing things that are out of sight of the masses. For example, restrictive emissions regulations on new coal and natural gas electric power plants would drive up electric costs from those sources without the US public so clearly getting the connection. But I do not see how the political will exists in the US, China, Japan, India, Australia, or Canada (among others) to cut heavily into CO2 emissions from cars.

I think carbon taxes are a very expensive way to speed up energy technology research in any case. A $1 a gallon tax on gasoline in the United States would raise $140 billion a year in revenue. We only need maybe $10 billion a year to fund massive research programs into new methods to generate and use energy (the $10 billion figure was the late Nobelist Richard Smalley's proposal for a sort of energy research Manhattan Project).

Randall Parker said at December 12, 2006 5:40 PM:

Brian Wang,

The Chinese could lower their rate of deaths from coal by orders of magnitude without giving up coal. Coal plants can be constructed to emit orders of magnitude less pollutants. It just costs more.

brian Wang said at December 12, 2006 6:13 PM:


Everyone makes coal plants because they are cheap and coal is plentiful.
What specific "clean" coal plant option were you thinking would work?
The ones that I have seen either are still very dirty or are too expensive to compete
with other energy options.

The clean coal options add costs that can make them more expensive than nuclear and wind.
Carbon sequestering costs $100/ton now.

The Chinese plants might affordably be brought in line air pollution wise with the USA maybe down
to 90,000 premature deaths in China. Similar in proportion to the USA with 27,000 dieing early.
And getting it so the cities do not have the killer smog that can bother the people enough to
possibly get pissed off enough to cause unrest.

China is set to spend $200 billion over the next 15 years on renewables and clean energy tech.

Do you think plug in hybrids will not work or will not be popular? Toyota, Nissan and maybe GM are looking at introductions in the 2009-2010 timeframes. Hybrids at 100mpg+, Plug in hybrids at 200mpg. Over ten years switch out most of the fleet of cars. Thus using 20% of the fuel and the CO2 emissions.

Ramping up biofuels is a matter of some genetic modification of microbes and crops and are an acceptable way to subsidize farms who have votes and the programs are currently being pushed.
Seems like we are getting to cleaner energy solutions despite some lack of political will. Just need Japan automakers kicking domestic car maker asses using cleaner tech and farmers with another revenue stream.

It should still be faster and we should mass produce nuclear reactors but clean energy is happening. The delays by not going more aggressively will kill millions but positive direction is a positive direction

aa2 said at December 12, 2006 6:45 PM:

I argued China has 1 trillion dollars in reserves that seems to depreciate in value each year now. How about they buy 250 billion worth of nuclear plants. India and Russia are the only two major nations I've seen talking about nuclear power build out on the scale neccessary. 2 big plants a year for the Chinese isn't bad, it would mean 50 more plants by 2030. But the Indians with a much smaller economy are talking 100 plants by 2030.. I think the Chinese should be thinking 300 to 500 nuke plants by 2030. Or 12-20 per year.

Engineer-Poet said at December 12, 2006 9:03 PM:

Carbon taxes need not cost much if anything, net.  At least, not in the USA; we've got a huge amount of low-hanging fruit, fat and sweet, and if a carbon tax causes people to start buying the more-efficient motors and solar DHW heaters and everything else we've known how to do for the last 30 years, we could actually save money.  The problem is rousing the public from Business As Usual.

The Stern Review's figure of $85/ton social cost for carbon emissions would add maybe 15¢ to a gallon of gasoline.  We've got far better reasons to slash oil use and give people strong financial incentives to do it (they start with "I" and end with "slam"), and I think that we ought to be looking at $2/gallon and work upwards from there.  The fact that the grid's excess capacity would allow the replacement of most gasoline with electricity right now (well, maybe with longer coal trains) is a point in favor.  $85/ton carbon tax would add maybe 2¢/kWh to the price of coal power; hardly critical to most consumers, but enough to push investment to wind and nuclear.

The other thing is that global warming is a huge threat to both China and India.  Both of them are critically dependent upon water supplies from snows in the Himalayas.  But Himalayan glaciers are retreating rapidly, and there may soon be no water in the rivers from mid-summer to autumn, just when needed most for cities and crops.  That means devastating dependence upon imported food... if there is any to be had.

China and India will make noises, but their coöperation will be forced by survival.

Randall Parker said at December 12, 2006 9:47 PM:


Think of what you are saying. If the social cost of carbon emissions works out to 15 cents a gallon of gasoline then we could levy a social cost tax on gasoline and do squat about the long term demand for gasoline. Plus, we'd given the US federal government about $20 billion a year that it'd waste. How would this help?

If we are going to cut CO2 emissions with taxes we'll need taxes measured in the dollars per gallon. That's a total non-starter with the electorate.

Engineer-Poet said at December 13, 2006 4:04 AM:

The bulk of a $2 tax on gasoline is an independence and anti-Islamism tax, not carbon tax.  It can easily be given back to the public as payroll-tax reductions.  Nobody's even tried selling it to the electorate that way.

Rob said at December 13, 2006 12:37 PM:

Also, let's not forget about China's underground, out-of-control coal fires. They produce 2-3% of all CO2 emitted by humans, more than all of US cars and light trucks put together. I don't understand why the environmentalist community gives China such a pass. They pollute like crazy and Kyoto ignored them.

Engineer-Poet said at December 13, 2006 7:33 PM:

Turns out that I mis-read the Stern Review executive summary; the social cost is $85/ton of CO2, not carbon.  So multiply everything by 3.67; 15¢/gallon -> 55¢/gallon.

Tom said at December 14, 2006 1:27 PM:

Given that China has 3 times our population, and considering that a good chunk of their CO2 production is likely industrial production for the US, complaining that they'll pass us in CO2 output is kind of silly. Our per capita CO2 production is still triple theirs.

Randall Parker said at December 14, 2006 5:43 PM:

Brian Wang,

See my previous post US Corporate Support For CO2 Emissions Capture Increasing and the comments section where Philip Sargent of Cambridge Energy Research Associates lays out the economics of coal versus nuclear electric power. In a nutshell: Coal without CO2 sequestration is cheaper than nuclear. Except one cleaner form of coal is about the same as nuclear. But coal with CO2 sequestration is more expensive than solar.

But the details depend on the location. Coal is cheaper in coal areas such as North Dakota or Wyoming than in most other places. Also capital costs vary. Lower capital costs work in favor of nuclear. Make capital costs extremely low and nuclear pulls out ahead since nuclear power plants require more capital than coal burning plants and coal plants require more capital than natural gas plants.

The more you spend on capital the less you have to spend on fuel.

In a world where CO2 emissions were not allowed we'd see massive nuclear power plant construction efforts. In a world where no conventional pollution was allowed we'd see more nuclear but still some coal. The ratios would depend on local costs for coal and capital.

Randall Parker said at December 14, 2006 5:48 PM:

Brian Wang,

Here's my bottom line point: We could have absolutely no pollution from coal burners if we were collectively willing to pay a few more pennies per kwh. I'd vote for such a regulatory regime. But the Chinese aren't willing to impose as many costs on their polluters as we are in America and Americans aren't willing to impose enough costs to totally stop conventional pollution, let along CO2 emissions.

As living standards rise people become more willing to pay the price to cut back pollutants. But the Chinese average per capita income is so low that we can't expect that from them or from India for that matter. This is a great tragedy for the world as a whole because the enormous number of people in China and India moving into the early stages of industrialization. They are going to generate a level of pollution that makes mid-20 century pollution in the United States look quite mild by comparison.

Randall Parker said at December 14, 2006 6:04 PM:


China is 3 times bigger? Try again. China has over 4 and a third times the population of the United States.

Most of their pollution is due to their local building efforts and rising living standards. Their exports to the United States are less than a tenth of their total GDP.

Randall Parker said at December 14, 2006 6:05 PM:


A 55 cent a gallon tax on gasoline won't prevent a continued rise in fossil fuels burning.

Engineer-Poet said at December 14, 2006 9:13 PM:

Really?  How about $187/ton on a 60%-carbon coal?  At that price, wind and nuclear are the only games in town for electric and the SUV becomes unattractive even without the extra $1.50 Islamist-abatement tax.

Philip Sargent said at December 15, 2006 12:16 PM:

[correction: I am with the Cambridge Energy Forum in Cambridge, UK; not with CERA in Cambridge Mass.]

The $85/tonne Stern Review cost is the social cost per marginal (additional) tonne of CO2 emitted.

No realistic tax or trading scheme would use this value without modification: for example, sales tax (or value added tax) would still apply on top of that; and for gasoline, in Europe $85/tonne would lead to a substantial price drop as the existing duty on gasoline is much, much higher than that - and no one is seriously suggesting dropping the duty (which exists because of the other, non-climate social costs of vehicle transport in crowded countries).

The result is that if we were to want to make serious changes to UK vehicle transport use, we would need to see duty/taxes on fuel at a level equivalent to $200-300/tonne. And no one is suggesting that either.

Brian Wang said at December 19, 2006 10:10 AM:

The hope is that China is currently run by bureaucrats and many with engineering backgrounds.
India has president Kalam who is a technological visionary.

I believe they are looking for opportunities to leapfrog and get cleaner energy and transportation technology where possible.

China's middle class is arriving sooner than many are aware of
By 2011, there are expected to be 40% of households in China with 25,000RMB-40000RMB per year in household income.
If the Yuan appreciates at 7% per year then it would be a 5.48 eschange rate. This lower middle class would have USD4550-7285/year. 10,000-17000 in purchasing power parity terms. Geting into the range of Poland or Hungary.

By 2015, 50% will have that lower class range and 21% will have 40,000RMb-100,000RMB. After conversion they will have the lower end at around Romanian levels and the higher end at about Czech Republic.

So the pollution is hitting and the ability to afford fixes is also there.

The case for the west is that we pay and fix our pollution and energy problems then we can sell the solution
to the laggards. Currently it may end up the other way around. China and India are making most of the nuclear reactors and
are making deals for technology transfer so that they will own the solutions and the industry going forward.
Whoever makes the investment now for fixes and technology will own or domiminate the future businesses. Ex. toyota. Made the investments 5-10 years ago and is now winning.

They should not be viewed as costs but as investments. If the right choices are made for winning and lower cost solutions. Mass produceable nuclear generators with a transition to thorium and molten salt reactors that and molecular nanotechnology enabled solar I think would be the winners.

Sequestering is expensive. Even targets for improved sequestering costs are high.
The US gov't is targeting $100/ton by 2015.

Engineer-Poet: Big taxes will not be enough to stop SUV sales and usage.
Europe has far more taxes on gas then $1.50 per gallon. It more like $3-6 per gallon but
SUV sales are growing there. 1 million per year with double digit increases.
It is a way to show that you are rich.

The US, Europe and the developed world is developing a large mass affluent class.
By 2015 many of the 23 million or so with $500,000 to 1,000,000 in net worth will move up to millionaire
class. Many of them will have behaviors that are immune to $30000-50000/year in gas tax especially if they have
arranged for transportation to be a business writeoff.

Sione Vatu said at December 19, 2006 10:28 AM:


You wrote: "The fear of a world government regulating behavior appears to come out of right-wing conspiracy theories."

Your attention is directed to commentary on environmental matters by Chirac (of France). He put it on the record that the goal of environmental treaties (such as Kyoto) and legislation (such as has been passed in the EU) is world government regulation. You should also study the comments of Gorbachov in this regard. I understand neither politician to be a right-wing conspiracist.


peter Ingot said at March 2, 2007 1:14 AM:

clean burning coal power stations reduce sulphur emissions but not CO2 emissions.

The average Chinese person uses a fraction of the energy and causes a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions of the average American. China emits a lot because it has a lot of people. Any Americans who think that China should cut its CO2 emissions before America should go and live in a Chinese village for a year. Try saying to a Chinese person: "You all need to make sacrifices and reduce your living standards, before I give up my SUV". Go on do it. I dare you!

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©