China’s carbon emissions per unit of economic growth have plunged over the past five years as the country has increasingly turned to greener technologies.
According to a report released by Tsinghua University, although China became the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the 2006 to 2010 period, with greenhouse gases climbing 33 percent, the country’s carbon intensity dropped by more than 20 percent over the same period.
The news will be welcomed by Chinese policy makers, including Xie Zhenhua, vice chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, who last month warned that U.S. style emissions per person would be a “disaster for the world.”
The challenge for a rapidly growing (and urbanizing) China will be to continue on this path.
Yet the difficulty of doing so was underscored in a report released in September by the European Commission, which warned that although China’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions currently stand at 6.8 tons compared with the United States’ 16.9 tons, the Chinese figure could pass the U.S. before the end of the decade.
“Due to its rapid economic development, per capita emissions in China are quickly approaching levels common in the industrialised countries of the Annex I group under the Kyoto Protocol,” the report noted. “In fact, present CO2 emissions per person in China are now equal to those of Italy, higher than France, but still smaller than that of Germany.”
“However, if the current trends in emissions by China and the industrialised countries including the USA would continue for another seven years, China will overtake the USA by 2017 as highest per capita emitter among the 25 largest emitting countries.”
China has committed to spending 2 trillion yuan ($313 billion) on developing green energy and reducing carbon emissions over the next five years, with a view to cutting per-unit GDP energy consumption by 16 percent compared with 2010.
The country has also announced a number of practical steps aimed at making this a reality, including the announcement this month that it will phase out power-draining light bulbs over the next five years.
According to AP, China plans to “ban imports and sales of 100-watt-and-higher incandescent bulbs from October 1, 2012, in an attempt to save energy and curb climate change.”
Bans are also set to be imposed on 60-watt-and-higher bulbs from October 1, 2014 and 15-watt-and-higher old-style bulbs from October 1, 2016. “The time frame of the last step may be adjusted according to an evaluation in September 2016,” it reported, based on a statement by the National Development and Reform Commission.
Still, as China Daily noted reporting on the new Tsinghua University study, there are genuine concerns moving forward, not least how to control coal use with local governments remaining so reluctant to use less energy while pursuing economic growth.
“Local authorities still have a strong desire for economic expansion,” China Daily quoted Qi Ye, editor-in-chief of the report, as saying.
“If you consider their growth targets together, you can see they are significantly higher than the annual growth goal of 7 percent set by the central government for the country's 12th 5 Year Plan (2011-2015) period.
“As a result, by 2015, the annual consumption of energy is expected to be equivalent to burning 4.6 billion tons of coal a year, according to the provincial targets…That's 500 million more tons than would be entailed by the amount of energy consumption called for in the central government's estimates.”