China’s Huge Emissions Gap: Difference Between Actual And Reported CO2 May Equal Yearly Emissions Of Japan

China recently overtook America as the world’s largest consumer of energy — also making it the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. Led by China, countries pumped record levels of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2011, setting the world on a path to 11 degree Fahrenheit warming by the end of the century.

If that prospect isn’t worrisome enough, consider this: China’s emissions could be as much as 20 percent higher than previously reported.

According to an international team of researchers, there’s a massive gap between China’s national and provincial emissions figures. And as China’s emissions skyrocket, that gap is growing. In 2010, the difference between the two data sets is 1.4 Gt of CO2 — or roughly the yearly emissions of Japan.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change:

China’s emission discrepancy in 2010 is equivalent to about 5% of the global total (in 2008) and higher than the CO2 emissions of the world’s fourth largest emitter—Japan, or the combined emissions of all African countries. The emission gap is mainly due to the inconsistencies of coal consumption between national and provincial statistics. For example, emissions caused by coal consumption contribute 71% of the emission discrepancy in 2010, whereas emissions from petroleum, natural gas and other fuels (including coke oven gas, other gas, other coking products, LPG, refinery gas and other petroleum products) account for 12%, 2% and 14%, respectively. The data situation is better when accounting cement processing emissions, which show a much smaller difference between provincial and national statistics.

This difference in reported data has huge consequences: It makes the job of climate scientists modeling emissions and warming scenarios more difficult; it makes international agreements on emissions cuts more murky; and it makes it harder for China to properly monitor regional cap and trade markets that provinces are beginning to roll out.

Oh, and it means that our current emissions path, which experts already say will have “devastating consequences for the planet,” may be conservative.

Discrepancies in reported pollution data are a common problem in China. Officials in the country have been repeatedly called out for using shoddy methods for measuring air pollution, calling “hazardous, emergency-condition” levels of air pollution “minor.” China’s pollution reporting has been so poor, the government has called on other countries not to release its national air quality data.

The explosion in Chinese carbon emissions is mostly due to a stunning rise in coal consumption. More than 70 percent of the “gap” comes from burning coal. And a growing chunk of that coal is coming from the United States, where producers are looking for new international markets to offset the decline in domestic consumption.

9 Responses to China’s Huge Emissions Gap: Difference Between Actual And Reported CO2 May Equal Yearly Emissions Of Japan

  1. Meyer says:

    OK. Now add this head-shaking underestimate to these ( ) and what do you get?

  2. M Tucker says:

    This is a well known and, as stated in the article, a common problem with China. The only surprise is that interested parties have not found a work around to get accurate emissions numbers. China is not concerned about accurate monitoring and they want the US embassy to stop reporting air quality for Beijing. I find it ludicrous that anyone actually believes China is an interested and ready partner in addressing global climate disruption.

  3. Tami Kennedy says:

    Per many in the US this isn’t a concern believing carbon concentration doesn’t affect the imaginary climate change.

  4. MorinMoss says:

    Unfortunately,there’s a lot more that comes from burning coal than just CO2 but those same particulates, while fouling the air and harming human, animal and plant health, does seem to slow the rate of warming.

    It’s a nasty catch-22

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    I fully expect that emissions and urgency over our situation both keep rising that more and more countries will be provably lying, and none of them, at least among the major emitters, will call out the others. They won’t want anyone else pointing out their own lies, so there will be a “gentleman’s agreement”, surely unwritten and likely unspoken, that everyone keeps quiet.

    The first rule of Carbon Club is you don’t talk about Carbon Club.

  6. Mark Shapiro says:

    Coal companies profit greatly from this, hence their increased support for Singer, Heartland, ALEC, and other so-called skeptics.

  7. Mark E says:

    Do you expect Faith Birol to revisit his statements reported in your prior column (below) in light of these new China numbers? Might this mean that the doorway to 2C has *already* closed?

  8. Michael Pope says:

    I find it strange that the national government of China could publish GHG emission figures which differ so significantly from provincial emission figures. What is extraordinary is that central government authorities should not have made an effort to resolve or explain these differences before national annual figures were published.

    Are we now entitled to assume that the significant difference between national and provincial figures are a reason why Beijing has so resolutely opposed its published emission figures being independently verified?

  9. Dick Smith says:

    Great link…with other great links, including this 2008 slide show comparing methane and co2 emissions that is the best material I’ve ever seen–even if dated.