China has a secret it doesn’t want President Barack Obama or the United Nations to know: It burns way more coal for electricity than older official data suggests.
But now the secret’s out. The New York Times reports China was using 17 percent more coal a year than government figures previously disclosed. The news comes just weeks ahead of United Nations climate summit where cooperation with China is key to hashing out a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.
“Even for a country of China’s size, the scale of the correction is immense,” The New York Times reports. “The sharp upward revision in official figures means that China has released much more carbon dioxide… than previously estimated. The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels.”
It was about one year ago that Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a joint effort to tackle global warming. The U.S. would cut CO2 emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 and China would peak its emissions by 2030. China’s promise was indeed vague, but the pledge was seen as a huge deal by climate treaty proponents.
Environmentalists and the Obama administration were again excited by China’s announcement that it would adopt a cap-and-trade program by 2017. This was seen as another huge milestone on the road to a U.N. climate treaty. (RELATED: Obama, Kerry Call China Deal No. 1 Goal Of China Policy)
“Our work together — to increase our trade, boost the global economy, fight climate change and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — shows that when the United States and China work together, it makes our nations and the world more prosperous and more secure,” Obama told the press during his meeting with Xi in September.
But from the beginning, Republican lawmakers warned China could not be trusted to replace cheap fossil fuels with costly green energy. Now it seems critics, like Oklahoma Republican Sen. [crscore]Jim Inhofe[/crscore], were right about being wary of China’s promise to cut emissions.
After China made its commitment to tackle global warming last year, analysts predicted it was on track to peak emissions before 2030, but that was based on the old coal-use data. China’s coal use has been underestimated since 2000, according to the Times.
The data, quietly released by China’s statistical agency, added “about 600 million tons to China’s coal consumption in 2012 — an amount equivalent to more than 70 percent of the total coal used annually by the United States,” the Times reported.
Revised coal statistics, however, make it less likely China will be able to live up to its pledge of peaking emissions by 2030.
“It’s created a lot of bewilderment,” Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research, told the Times.
“Our basic data will have to be adjusted, and the international agencies will also have to adjust their databases,” he said. “This is troublesome because many forecasts and commitments were based on the previous data.”
But China’s carbon dioxide emissions estimates have generally been unreliable which have complicated efforts to impose a cap-and-trade system.
Environmental economist Richard Tol pointed out China’s national government figures contradict provincial government estimates of how much CO2 the country is emitting.
“If you don’t know how much you’re emitting, how are you going to tax something,” Tol told those gathered at the libertarian Cato Institute last week.
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