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Carbon accounting error reduces China’s emissions tally by twice Australia’s entire output

Welcome to carbon accounting games. Which other global “free” market is based on a ubiquitous molecule made by life on Earth, and produced in massive quantities in places where it’s almost impossible to even measure accurately? The largest non-human and human players don’t play (they don’t pay). Massive quantities go missing from the accounts, while other countries are expected to turn their economies upside down to cut one tenth as much.

Shu Liu et al estimate China’s output of CO2 was 14% lower in 2013 than other estimates.[1] They estimate China emitted 2.5 Gt of “carbon” in 2013.  Australia produces around 0.1 Gt a year.* So China’s “reduction” was 2 – 3 times what Australia produces every year. There is no other market in the world where so much hard money changes hands based on soft guesses about a product that no one wants, and is hard to even measure.

Frank Jotzo, ANU, reveals how irrelevant actual CO2 emissions are — it’s “good news” that doesn’t make any difference:

Frank Jotzo, the director of the Center for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra, said it was “good news” that Chinese coal was yielding less carbon dioxide, “but it does not change the fundamentals, nor the challenge that China faces in getting away from coal.”

China uses nearly half the world’s coal. People from the outside are trying to guess how much CO2 China emits.

Some things were never going to be suitable for a “free market”. CO2 is one of them.


Nearly three-quarters of the growth in global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production between 2010 and 2012 occurred in China1, 2. Yet estimates of Chinese emissions remain subject to large uncertainty; inventories of China’s total fossil fuel carbon emissions in 2008 differ by 0.3 gigatonnes of carbon, or 15 per cent1, 3, 4, 5. The primary sources of this uncertainty are conflicting estimates of energy consumption and emission factors, the latter being uncertain because of very few actual measurements representative of the mix of Chinese fuels. Here we re-evaluate China’s carbon emissions using updated and harmonized energy consumption and clinker production data and two new and comprehensive sets of measured emission factors for Chinese coal. We find that total energy consumption in China was 10 per cent higher in 2000–2012 than the value reported by China’s national statistics6, that emission factors for Chinese coal are on average 40 per cent lower than the default values recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change7, and that emissions from China’s cement production are 45 per cent less than recent estimates1, 4. Altogether, our revised estimate of China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production is 2.49 gigatonnes of carbon (2 standard deviations = ±7.3 per cent) in 2013, which is 14 per cent lower than the emissions reported by other prominent inventories1, 4, 8. Over the full period 2000 to 2013, our revised estimates are 2.9 gigatonnes of carbon less than previous estimates of China’s cumulative carbon emissions1, 4. Our findings suggest that overestimation of China’s emissions in 2000–2013 may be larger than China’s estimated total forest sink in 1990–2007 (2.66 gigatonnes of carbon)9 or China’s land carbon sink in 2000–2009 (2.6 gigatonnes of carbon)10.



[1^]Zhu Liu et al (2015) Reduced carbon emission estimates from fossil fuel combustion and cement production in China, Nature 524, 335–338http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v524/n7565/full/nature14677.html

*Australia emits 547 Mt of CO2-equivalent gas, which is not just carbon, but carbon dioxide and methane and all the other greenhouse gases, hence the numbers are very different.  The USA emits about 1.5 Gt of carbon (and about 6,500 Mt of CO2-e).

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