China's Rise to Top CO2 Emitter Fueled by Export Production: Study

Oslo, Norway – China has become the world leader in carbon emissions largely because of the sharp growth in the production of exports – the majority of them going to developed countries, according to a new study.

The paper from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo is expected to be published soon in the scientific journal "Geophysical Research Letters."

The rise in emissions can be charted along side China’s emergence in the past decade as a key producer of goods that are sent around the world, according to the report. It focuses on the period from 2002 to 2005, a timespan that coincides with the bulk of China’s double-digit economic growth from 2002 to 2007.

Export production was responsible for 50 percent of the growth in China’s carbon emissions from 2002 to 2005 with exports to developed countries accounting for 60 percent of that increase – fully a third of the country’s overall emissions growth, the report says.

Its authors are Glen P. Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Dabo Guan of the University of Cambridge, Christopher L. Weber of Carnegie Mellon University and Klaus Hubacek of the University of Leeds. GreenBiz received a copy of their paper.

The research underscores the argument – advanced in a 2007 report by Peters and Edgar G. Hertwich of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology – that greenhouse gas inventories based on a country’s economic activity and consumption would produce a more accurate picture of emissions than basing the measurement on production and geographic area.

In examining the driving forces of the China’s surge in emissions, the study found that about 35 percent of the growth resulted from capital formation with consumption of services by urban households and government responsible for most of the remaining 15 percent.

"Efficiency gains have only made a minor impact on China’s carbon emissions … and have not been able to keep pace with the rapid growth in demand for Chinese exports, construction activities, and domestic consumption," the report said.

The paper listed four key implications regarding climate policy in China and said the country should:

  • Pay further attention to creating energy efficient capital stocks in manufacturing sectors, strengthen international cooperation to accelerate development of low-carbon technologies and implement mature technologies in large scale.

  • Revisit its current export structure.

  • Improve efficiency of materials used in construction.

  • Improve energy conservation at the consumer level, particularly in lighting and air conditioning.

China’s efforts to ramp up its green building have led to large imports of consultive talent and engineering and design expertise. In recent articles, the Portland Oregonian reported that the green boom in China has been a boon to architects, engineers, landscapers and nurseries in the state — and potentially to a firm that’s looking to invest hugely in China to help provide the country, the world’s top importer of timber, expertise in eco-conscious forestry.

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