May 2, 2008

China is #1!

Thousands of websites present the usual view of global warming claiming that greenhouse gases are increasing in atmospheric concentration, this is causing the planet to warm, and if we don’t act immediately, an endless number of calamities are certain to become reality. These sites then make every effort to make you believe that much of the problem can be placed at the feet of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and just about anyone associated with the gas, oil, and coal companies in the United States. There are mentions here and there of contributions from other countries, but you will constantly be reminded that the United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, that the relatively small population of the USA has an immoral per capita emission level, and that no one on the planet should feel more guilty about global warming than folks who voted for the current administration.

To be fair, there have been news reports recently that China’s total emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) has surpassed the emission from the United States. Along these lines, an important article has appeared in Geophysical Research Letters that shows China is now our global leader in CO2 emission, which is certainly newsworthy, but other results presented in their article may be received as bad news by the global warming alarmists. The research was conducted by three scientists at the University of Maryland, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; a portion of the research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research Programs.

Gregg et al. begin their article noting that “Fossil fuel combustion and cement manufacture are the principal anthropogenic sources of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), and hence the principal concern in efforts to address anthropogenic climate change.” Furthermore, they state “The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) database shows global emissions from fossil fuels and cement have grown from 6.2 Pg C in 1990, the base year for commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, to 7.2 Pg C in 2001 and 8.4 Pg C in 2006.” In case you are not familiar with the unit of measure, a Pg C is a billion metric tons of carbon. Be alert that we are looking at the buildup of carbon (C), and not the much larger number for the buildup of CO2. Recall from your recent chemistry class that the molecular weight of carbon is 12, while the molecular weight of CO2 is 44. The convention in the scientific community is to keep track of the carbon and report the results for carbon only. The global emissions of carbon is 2006 was 6.2 Pg; the global emission of CO2 in 2006 was therefore 22.7 Pg. We find a great deal of confusion on this topic as we examine websites on global warming.

Anyway, Gregg et al. in the opening paragraph start to let the cat out of the bag as they state “Rapid growth over the last five years has been dominated by economic growth in developing countries, with 54% of the global increase in CO2 emissions over the period 2001–2006 coming from China alone.” To further evaluate China’s emissions, the team collected data from a variety of sources, including the United Nations and the China National Bureau of Statistics. They note that “analyses do not include the special administrative regions of Hong Kong or Macao, and they also exclude Taiwan, because data are kept separately for these regions.”

Figure 1 shows the emissions of CO2 from China and the United States with the “2 sigma” confidence intervals presented as well (they are 87% sure the actual value falls between the two “2 sigma” lines). They note “CO2 emissions from China increased nearly 80% from 2000 to 2006. Emissions for 2003 and 2004 saw rates of increase of 17% and 18% respectively. This outpaced the phenomenal 10% annual growth in real gross domestic product.” They note that “when considering estimates of monthly CO2 emissions, our best estimate is that China reached US levels of emissions for the first time in November 2005, with both countries emitting 132 TgC/month, and then eventually passed the US in September of 2006, emitting at a rate 142 TgC/month, subject again to the uncertainties in the underlying data on energy consumption, as discussed below. Therefore, our best estimate is that the crossing between the United States and China occurred late 2006.” You guessed it, a TgC of carbon is a trillion grams of carbon. They further note that it is “possible that our analysis may be underestimating the current rate of growth in emissions for China.”

Figure 1. Historic annual emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production for the US and China 1950–2006. Two sigma uncertainties are represented by the adjacent gray lines. After a period of dramatic growth in China, the annual emissions for the two countries are approximately equal (from Gregg et al., 2008).

Gregg et al. generated the monthly plot below (Figure 2) for the period 2001 through 2006, and it also shows the incredible increase in CO2 emissions from China. However, almost lost in the focus on China is the fact that CO2 emissions from the United States have not increased over the 2001-2006 period. Who would ever believe that the CO2 emission of the United States has not increased one bit during the Bush-Cheney administration. This fact is certainly not going to be well received by the climate alarmists who seem anxious to blame the United States for anything related to global warming.

Figure 2. Monthly emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production for the US and China. Emissions in China begin to exceed those of the US in late 2006 (from Gregg et al., 2008)

Finally, Gregg et al. remind us that “Designated as a developing country, China was not given Annex I status, and thus is not required to meet emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Whether we are observing increasing consumption in developing countries or the export of emissions from developed countries, global CO2 emissions are in a period of rapid growth that is nullifying the mitigation aspirations of international agreements. Although there is still concern about energy data from China, it is clear that CO2 emissions are growing very rapidly; over half of the global growth in emissions is occurring in China. Per capita emissions from China are now at global-average values and are reaching European-average values in some rapidly industrializing areas. This is propelling China into the position as the largest national source of CO2.”


Gregg, J. S., R. J. Andres, and G. Marland, 2008. China: Emissions pattern of the world leader in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption and cement production, Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L08806, doi:10.1029/2007GL032887.

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