Coal used in China has less carbon than that used in the EU and the USA, leading to less greenhouse gas emissions

China's greenhouse emissions better than previously thought

The levels of greenhouse gas emissions produced by China have never been as bad as international agencies were claiming, new research has revealed. 

According to a team led by the University of East Anglia and Harvard University, the rising Asian super-power has produced 2.9 gigatonnes of carbon less than previously estimated for the period between 2000 and 2013.

According to the findings published in the journal Nature, the overestimates of China’s emissions during this period may be larger than the country’s natural carbon store.

The scientists said that the major contribution to the misleading estimates was missing information about the quality of fuel used in China.

“China is the largest coal consumer in the world, but it burns much lower-quality coal, such as brown coal, which has a lower heat value and carbon content compared to the coal burned in the US and Europe,” said Professor Dabo Guan from the University of East Anglia.

The researchers found that even though the total energy consumption in China was 10 per cent higher between 2000-2012 than the value reported by the country's national statistics, emission factors for Chinese coal were on average 40 per cent lower than the default levels recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Also, the actual emissions from China's cement production were 45 per cent below the recent estimates, the study found.

The team concluded the overall greenhouse gas emissions China produced in 2013 only amounted to 2.49 gigatonnes of carbon, 14 per cent less than the value reported in assessments used by the IPCC.

The figure is also about 10 per cent lower than the estimate given for China in the most recent publication of the Global Carbon Project, which updates annually the global carbon emissions and their implications for future trends.

Nearly three-quarters of the growth in global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production between 2010-2012 occurred in China. Yet estimates of Chinese emissions remain subject to large uncertainty due to conflicting assessments of energy consumption and emission factors.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” said Professor Corinne Le Quéré. “The strong message here is that as we refine our estimates of carbon emissions we get closer to an accurate picture of what is going on and we can improve our climate projections and better inform policy on climate change.”

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