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China's Carbon Goal Thwarted by Economic Boom

Oct 07, 2014 11:16 AM EDT
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Contrary to its goal to reduce carbon emissions by up to 45 percent by 2020, China has seen a three percent increase in the greenhouse gas thanks to its rampant economic boom, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
(Photo : Pixabay)

Contrary to its goal to reduce carbon emissions by up to 45 percent by 2020, China has seen a three percent increase in the greenhouse gas thanks to its rampant economic boom, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Carbon-emitting activities such as mining, metal smelting and coal-fired electricity generation have led to the jump in emissions, despite improvements in carbon efficiency, say the findings published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

While China leads the way in renewable energy growth, it is also ironically one of the world's top polluters. China's government sets both climate and economic targets to evaluate performance of local governments, but GDP always comes first, according to the recent seven-year study.

"Capital investment creates a market demand for the large-scale production expansion of cement, steel and other highly emission-intensive processed materials, and the associated electricity generation to support their production," Professor Dabo Guan of UEA's School of International Development said in a statement.

China may have implemented new, less wasteful technologies to help boost carbon efficiency, but these improvements are moot considering they've resulted in increased production and associated rise in emissions.

For example, Inner Mongolia replaced many inefficient, carbon-intensive factories with more modern facilities. This, in turn, led to metal smelting and cement production increasing 14-fold between 2002 and 2009. The region may have boasted a 159 percent efficiency improvement, but combined with the 141 percent increase in scale production, Inner Mongolia overall saw a mere 18 percent gain in efficiency.

On the bright side, marked improvements occurred in the economically advanced coastal areas and the heavily industrialized inland regions. Not to mention official statistics for the first half of 2014 show an encouraging five percent decrease in carbon intensity.

Concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide hit a record high in 2013 with the emissions rate being the fastest in the past 30 years. According to data from the World Meteorological Organization, the atmosphere reached 396 parts per million (ppm) in 2013, jumping almost 3 ppm over the previous year.

And if China wants to help lower that number, it has to decouple its economic growth with emission-intensive capital investments, according to the recent study.

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