Citizen Action Monitor

EXPOSED — Western methods of analysis underestimate reality of China, India climate emissions

Flawed forecasts have serious policy implications for nations around the globe

No 1208 Posted by fw, December 10, 2014

redflag 2“Putting these numbers together results in a world that looks completely different from the one that the Committee on Climate Change envisages, where emissions from China and India are assumed to peak by around 2017. Most of the low carbon integrated assessment models informing governments around the world have emission peaks between 2005 and 2016. However, away from the headlines and microphones, few, if any, of those working on climate change consider these early peaks or accompanying low-emissions growth as either viable or appropriate.” Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

We continue to strive for economic growth. But growth needs to be balanced by reduced growth in emissions. Scientists have calculated that we can only pour about an additional 565 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon into the atmosphere and still have a reasonable chance of staying below 2°C. Newly industrializing countries, including China and India, have been given an extended time period of time for continued emissions growth. And therein lies the catch — any growth in their emissions will reduce the amount of emissions that industrialized countries can release. In this context, Figure 7 in the following post graphically reveals a shocking reality — If, beginning in 2000, developing nations followed a strict emissions trajectory, developed nations would have had to cut their emissions to zero by 2010 in order to remain below 2°C

This is Part 6 of a multipart series extracted from Kevin Anderson’s incisive, fact-filled, 2012 24-page article. To access the preceding four parts, click on these links — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

To read Anderson’s complete 24-page paper, click on the following linked title. Alternatively, below is a reposting of the excerpted passages selected for this post, Part 6, with some added subheadings inserted as hanging indents in bold italics, highlighted text and a couple of added hyperlinks.

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Climate change going beyond dangerous – Brutal numbers and tenuous hope by Kevin Anderson, Published in What Next Volume III: Climate, Development and Equity, September 2012 (24 pages)

A fair deal for non-Annex 1 countries – what’s left for Annex 1?

If, beginning in 2000, developing nations followed a strict emissions trajectory, developed nations would have had to cut their emissions to zero by 2010 in order to remain below 2°C

Across the global community we continue to strive for economic growth. But this needs to be balanced with a limited and rapidly shrinking emissions cake; a cake that needs to be divided between the industrializing (non-Annex I) and industrialized (Annex I) nations.

My colleague Alice Bows (Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester) and I have analyzed how far it is possible to push (non-Annex I) countries in terms of their emissions, and then see what is left for the Annex I. Underlying the analysis as presented here, is a global emissions budget corresponding to a 40 per cent likelihood of exceeding 2°C (i.e. not a very ambitious scenario in relation to the risks involved).

Figure 7 shows an emissions trajectory for non-Annex I countries over the 21st century. Emissions grow (with a tiny dip at the economic downturn in 2008) to a peak in 2025, at a growth rate of 3.5 per cent per annum, much lower than the 6-8 per cent growth in emissions that we are actually seeing in China, for example. Following the peak in 2025, emissions decrease at 7 per cent every year, twice the rate that the Stern review and most economists’ claim is the limit within a growing economy. So we are already positing a very challenging curve for the non-Annex I nations.

Fig 7

What then is left for Annex I countries in this scenario? The blue curve illustrates the blunt reality: in 2010 Annex I countries had no emissions left. This means that we would have to switch the lights off today; in fact, we should have switched them o” yesterday. It means we could not have taken the car home from work yesterday, and will be stuck in the office tonight. When we do get home – stepping off our bicycle – we should cancel our flight to the south of France, which is the last thing we do on the laptop before the battery runs out – or try to do, because we fail as the internet is down. There is literally no emissions space left for those of us in the Annex I parts of the world, in order to have a roughly 50:50 chance of staying below 2°C temperature rise; of avoiding extremely dangerous climate change.

“It is vital to pay careful attention to emissions from China and India”

This is a challenging situation, to say the least. But even this non-Annex I pathway may be too optimistic. To better understand the reality of current emissions, it is vital to pay careful attention to emissions from China and India, in particular. There is often a naivety underlying the dominant Western ways of analyzing these issues.

Don’t expect a drop in China’s GDP growth rate anytime some. Sustained economic growth – sustained emissions growth

China’s annual fossil fuel emissions are about 7.5 gigatonnes of CO2, around a quarter of the global total. The Chinese GDP growth rate has a 10-year trend of about 10.5 per cent per annum. Some economists believe this growth rate cannot be sustained much longer, but they have said so for a long time, while the rate has still been achieved. China has been very successful in maintaining strong and sustained economic growth, and it is certainly not planning to bring it to a halt just now.

India’s rate of emissions growth is lower than China’s but still significant

India’s emissions are about the same size as Japan’s (about 6 per cent of the global total each), having grown at about 7.5 per cent per annum over the past decade. The rate of growth of emissions is lower than China’s, but still significant. The question is if and how long this can continue.

China has a large untapped reservoir of people

Shanghai and Beijing have a similar GDP per capita as the average OECD country. However, there are 200 million people in China who earn less than US $1.25 per day and about 250 million people who earn between US $10 and US $20 a day. There is thus a large, untapped reservoir of people to sustain China, potentially, as a major industrial powerhouse, with substantial economic and emissions growth, for many years to come.

Low per capita income levels in China and India foretell considerable potential for continued economic growth

The Chinese GDP per capita measured in the market exchange rate (which is not a perfect measure but acceptable for these purposes) is about 5 per cent of the OECD average. Although citizens of Shanghai and Beijing (which have a combined population of about two-thirds of that of the UK) are on average as wealthy as the average UK citizen, the average Chinese person has only about 5 per cent of the income of the average person living in one of the OECD countries. India’s income per capita is even lower, around 2 per cent of the OECD average and just over a third of China’s. All this suggests that there is considerable potential for continued economic growth in these countries. The emissions likely to accompany this growth could see us going well beyond what is currently accounted for in either our or the standard emission scenarios.

If China’s CO2 emissions continue on their current trajectory by 2030 they would emit as much as the rest of the world today

Assuming China meets its 12th five-year plan along with its other promises to reduce its emissions intensity, it is likely to account for about one-half of the world’s CO2 emissions by the early 2020s. If these growth rates were to continue, by 2030 China alone would emit as much as the rest of the world today.

There is a large discrepancy in the numbers between Western and Chinese models and scenarios

Are these assumptions reasonable? Many Chinese scholars expect the emissions to peak in 2030 and then probably plateau. The minimum growth rate of emissions to peak is often assumed to lie between 5 per cent and 7 per cent, much higher than in current models that assume just 1-2 per cent growth to a very early peak. There is a large discrepancy between the numbers in Western models and scenarios, and those considered appropriate by many Chinese academics; and it may seem plausible that Chinese experts have a more robust understanding of China’s actual emissions.

Similar discrepancies are found between Western and India data

The situation looks similar for India. Assuming India will follow a pathway that is comparable to China’s, its emissions will be about 3.5 gigatonnes by 2020 and could amount to 7 Gt by 2030. Many Indian experts on climate change suggest that energy-related emissions will peak after 2030, again in stark contrast to the numbers in the established Western models. All of this, then, has serious implications for mitigation and adaptation analysis and subsequentially policy, globally and for all nations around the globe.

Putting these numbers together results in a world that looks completely different from the one that the [UK] Committee on Climate Change envisages, where emissions from China and India are assumed to peak by around 2017. Most of the low carbon integrated assessment models informing governments around the world have emission peaks between 2005 and 2016. However, away from the headlines and microphones, few, if any, of those working on climate change consider these early peaks or accompanying low-emissions growth as either viable or appropriate.

End of Part 6

This article is based on a transcript of a public presentation at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) in July 2011, available at http://www.slideshare.net/DFID/professor-kevin-anderson-climate-change-going-beyond-dangerous

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