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China Tops World in CO2 Emissions


By Audra Ang, Associated Press Writer
USA Today
June 20, 2007


Beijing China has overtaken the United States as the world's top
producer of carbon dioxide emissions -- the biggest man-made contributor
to global warming -- based on the latest widely accepted energy
consumption data, a Dutch research group says.

According to a report released Tuesday by the Netherlands Environmental
Assessment Agency, China overtook the U.S. in emissions of CO2 by about
7.5 percent in 2006. While China was 2 percent below the United States in
2005, voracious coal consumption and increased cement production caused
the numbers to rise rapidly, the group said.

"It's an expression of their fast industrial production activities and
their fast development," Jos G.J. Olivier, the agency's senior scientist
who compiled the figures, said Wednesday. The agency is independent but
paid by the Dutch government to advise it on environmental policy.

The study said China, which relies on coal for two-thirds of its energy
needs and makes 44 percent of the world's cement, produced 6.23 billion
metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2006. In comparison, the U.S., which gets
half its electricity from coal, produced 5.8 billion metric tons of CO2.
The group's analysis makes sense and had been predicted to happen by 2009
or 2010, said experts from the United Nations and the U.S. Energy
Information Administration, and outside academics.

Bert Metz, a senior researcher at the Dutch agency and a leading expert on
efforts to battle global warming, said the analysis was done using methods
and data that "are the best currently available."

This means that "Chinese contributions to global CO2 emissions are getting
more important," Metz said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

A woman in the press office of China's State Environmental Protection
Agency called the report irresponsible, and said "it's impossible that
China is the world's top producer of carbon dioxide emissions." The woman,
who refused to give her name, said her agency and the National Development
and Reform Commission were collecting evidence to refute the Dutch report.
Repeated calls to the National Development and Reform Commission, the
Cabinet-level economic planning agency, rang unanswered.

Earlier figures indicated China would likely surpass the U.S. in
greenhouse gas emissions as early as 2009, although other predictions said
it could happen this year.

Chinese environmental officials have said that while total emissions are
going up, they are still less than one quarter of those of the United
States on a per capita basis. Because China's population of 1.3 billion
people is more than four times that of the United States, China spews
about 10,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per person, while in the United
States it is nearly 42,500 pounds per person.

Olivier said there was not much chance China will now lose its lead.
"China's growth will saturate at some point," he said. But "for now, we
don't see a trend (toward) this saturation yet."

Olivier said the research was based on data on fossil fuel consumption
from BP PLC's Review of Energy 2007, compiled by the British oil company,
and cement production data through 2006 published by the U.S. Geological Survey.

John Christensen, head of the U.N. Environment Program's Center on Energy,
Climate and Sustainable Development in Denmark, said the figures did not
come as a surprise.

"The Dutch agency referred to BP statistics, which is the standard
reference tool. We have no reason to doubt that the numbers are right. We
have no reason to doubt the methodology," Christensen said. "It's been
stated many times that China will overtake the U.S. in emissions."

Other sources of carbon dioxide, such as deforestation and the flaring of
gas in oil and gas production, are not included in the data. They also do
not include methane from fuel production and agriculture and nitrous oxide
from industry.

Fatih Birol, chief economist of the Paris-based International Energy
Agency also said the findings were not surprising, given China's economic
growth of more than 9 percent annually over the past 25 years.

His agency had estimated China would overtake the U.S. before 2010; in
November it sharpened the forecast to 2007 or 2008.

But the issue isn't just current emissions, but carbon dioxide stuck in
the atmosphere, where it lingers for about a century trapping heat below,
said Jay Apt, a professor of engineering, business and public policy at
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Apt and a colleague calculated the share of carbon dioxide now in the
atmosphere that can be attributed to each country and determined that the
United States is responsible for 27 percent, European nations contributed
20 percent and China only 8 percent.

"The planet does not respond to emissions, the planet responds to the
amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," said Apt. "It means the U.S.
will have the lion's share of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the
foreseeable future. In fact, even if China's exponential growth continues,
China will not surpass the U.S. in the numbers of carbon dioxide atoms in
the atmosphere, that is concentration, until at least 2050, which is too
late to start anything."

The International Energy Agency's Birol said the key message from the
emission figures isn't who is No. 1, but the need to slow growth in CO2
emissions. "The rest of the world with the help of China needs to find
ways for China to reduce CO2 emissions," Birol said.

China has come under growing international pressure to take more forceful
measures to curb releases of greenhouse gases.

This month, China unveiled its first national program to combat global
warming with promises to rein in greenhouse gas production. While the
program offered few new concrete targets for greenhouse gas emissions, it
outlined steps the country would take to meet a previously announced goal
of improving energy efficiency in 2010 by 20 percent over 2005's level.

Beijing also indicated an unwillingness to enforce mandatory emissions caps.

Ma Kai, the minister heading the National Development and Reform
Commission, said economic development is a priority for China, but efforts
would be made to raise awareness about global warming.

China signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which caps the amount of carbon
dioxide that can be emitted in industrialized countries. But because China
is considered a developing country it is exempt from emission reductions
-- a situation often cited by the Bush administration and Australia for
not accepting the treaty.

Yang Ailun of Greenpeace China called on the country to take more steps to
protect the environment. "Due to the urgency of climate change, China has
the responsibility to take immediate actions to reform its energy
structure and curb its CO2 emissions," Yang said in a statement.

She noted that Western consumers use products made in China.

"All the West has done is export a great slice of its carbon footprint to
China and make China the world's factory," she said. "This trend has kept
the price of projects in the West down, but led to a climate disaster in
the long term."

 

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